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Wingebago 12-Passenger Biplane Not Something You See At Campground Every Day

Sat., Feb. 4, 1995, midnight

Dennis and Norma Jean Hanson own one of the world’s most common aircraft. But aviation buffs cluster when they drag it from their Felts Field hangar.

Most Spokane pilots have never seen the likes of the Antonov An-2 the Hansons bought last summer for a camping rig. It is one of only 18 in the United States.

“Mind if I take a peek inside?” asked a pilot who happened to be driving past the field Friday when Dennis Hanson landed the lumbering biplane.

Built since 1947, first in Russia and now in Poland, the An-2 is the largest single-engine biplane ever mass-produced. Its upper wing spans 60 feet. Its nine-cylinder engine pushes out 1,000 horsepower.

Inside, there is seating for a pilot, a copilot and 12 others - or, for Dennis, Norma Jean, their four children, plenty of camping gear and the canoe the family may buy.

“There are a lot of landing strips in wilderness areas in Montana and Idaho,” where the family likes to camp, said Hanson, who inherited his father’s joy for flying and now owns Eagle Helicopter service.

The plane can land where most others can’t, on runways as short as 600 feet. It was several hundred feet above the runway Friday before a two-seater taking off from a parallel strip left the ground.

The An-2 is no speedster. Top speed is about 115 mph, compared to 161 mph for the Hansons’ Cessna 185.

Throttled back over the Rathdrum Prairie, the rumbling An-2 couldn’t keep up with the minivans and pickups on Interstate 90. Its air speed read 60 kilometers per hour, about 37 mph.

Among North American aircraft, only the single-winged Otter is similar in size and purpose. But while de Havilland Canada produced only 466 Otters, Antonov built some 20,000 An-2s. They are more common in Eastern Europe than Piper Cubs ever were in America.

Europeans use them for bush planes, cargo carriers, crop-dusters and military workhorses. An An-2 was the first airplane shot down by a helicopter, said John Houston, director of the Texas Air Museum, which has two of the biplanes.

“They’re the backbone of the Communist air force,” said Houston. “If you go to Russia and you go off the beaten track, you’ll eventually fly on an An-2.”

Hanson saw his first An-2 while visiting the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s. The couple went to Poland last summer, hoping to find one used. Instead, they bought the yellow, black and white biplane at the factory.

“One reason we bought this particular airplane is because it has some English (on the instrument panel) rather than just Polish,” said Norma Jean Hanson, who earned her pilot’s license in the early 1980s.

The plane also has safety equipment - such as shoulder straps for the pilot - required in the United States but not normally installed in An-2s. The company had planned to sell the plane in Brazil, where regulations are similar to those enforced by the FAA.

The Hansons paid to have the plane flown from Warsaw to Maine by way of the Ukraine, Iceland, Greenland and eastern Canada. They made the cross-country trip themselves in July.

Since then, they’ve logged about 100 hours practicing takeoffs and landings in the tail-dragger, and answering questions from curious pilots.

“We’ve met a lot of people we never would have known,” said Norma Jean Hanson.

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition

Cut in the Spokane edition


 
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