Air Transportation: How A DC-3 Replacement Ended Up In China


December 5, 2011: An old Russian aircraft design, the An-12, is getting a second life as the Chinese Y-8. This Chinese copy of the An-12 never caught on big as a transport, but has been showing up as a radar (AWACS) maritime patrol/anti-submarine and electronic warfare aircraft.

China has been building the Y-8 since the early 1980s. The 54 ton propeller driven Y-8 can, like the similar American C-130, can carry 20 tons. China only built about a 130 Y-8s over the last 30 years, and sold some to Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Sudan. Meanwhile, more new uses are being found for the Y-8. One was recently converted to a medical evacuation aircraft, able to carry 39 casualties on stretchers and fifteen able to sit, plus medical personnel.

Many of the older An-12s are still flying. But earlier this year Russia grounded all An-12 transports after one developed problems with one of its four turboprop engines and crashed in the Far East. The Russian answer to the American C-130, the 61 ton An-12 entered service in 1959 (two years after the C-130), but production ceased in 1973 (after 1,280 were built). The 70 ton C-130 remains in production and over 2,300 have been built.

Hundreds of An-12s are still in service, mostly with cut-rate airlines in out-of-the-way areas. In the last two years, five An-12s have crashed (in Egypt, two in Congo, the Philippines and Russia). The current grounding will remain in effect until all operational aircraft can be checked for some common flaw. Actually, all these aircraft do have a common problem; old age. The average operational An-12 is over 40 years. Maintenance is often skimpy and flying one of these aircraft is literally a death-defying event. The An-12 was a military version of the An-10 commercial passenger and freight transport. In turn, the An-10 was a four engine version of the twin engine An-8, designed after the war to replace the Russian license built DC-3s.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Y-8s are well maintained and constantly updated with new equipment. China is apparently increasing production and finding even more uses for this 60 year old design.





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