The An-72 first flew in December 1977. The An-74 variant was produced at the same time, designed for cold weather missions and exploration of the poles. Many additional variants have been built, including VIP transportation and armed maritime patrol.
The odd, ear-like placement of the engines help give the “Coaler” remarkable STOL capabilities. The overwing engines create a Coandă effect on takeoff, blowing exhaust gases over the wings.
The plane was in full-scale production by the 1980s. It bears a remarkable resemblance to the Boeing YC-14 which was very successful in test flights one year before the “Coaler” first took to the skies.
The “Coaler” is designed to land and takeoff from sand, grass, unpaved surfaces, and frozen terrain.
The Russians call the An-72 the “Cheburashka.” According to one source, the plane is very easy to fly and quite forgiving. Pilots are happy with the ergonomic cockpit, low noise levels, and responsiveness of the controls. With a 7,700 lb load, the plane can take-off in about a quarter of a mile. On landing, the plane remains controllable and stable at speeds as low as 102 mph.
In combat use, the An-74MP, Marine Patrol variant, can move 44 soldiers, 22 paratroopers, 16 stretchers with medical staff, or 10 tons of cargo. The An-72P Patrol variant carries a 23mm GSh-23L cannon plus bombs and unguided rockets.
The “Coaler” is still in military service in Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine as of 2012. Several civil airlines, mostly in developing nations, still use the plane for cargo or passenger flights.
Capacity: Up to 52 passengers
Length: 92 ft 1 in
Wingspan: 104 ft 7.5 in
Height: 28 ft 4.5 in
Empty weight: 42,000 lb
Maximum weight: 76,058 lb
Engines: Two Lotarev D-36 series 1A, 14,330 lbf thrust each
Maximum speed: 435 mph
Cruising speed: 342-373 mph
Range: 2,688 miles