Oleg Antonov / Biography
Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov was born on the 7thof February 1906. He is a man whose name remains with us for more than two decades that have passed since his demise. Years can not erase his exceptionally bright and appealing character from memory. «Outstanding aircraft designer», «extraordinary manager», «bright personality», "the Man", «painter», "writer", "sportsman" – this is not just a list of Antonov’s individual features , but the epithets of amazing diversity that, when combined, produce a rare example of an exceptionally rich life. «Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov was … a multifaceted personality combining in-depth knowledge of engineering with art», – said Nikolai Mikhailovich Amosov, outstanding surgeon.
However, aviation always remained the most important side of Antonov’s life. He created 52 glider and 22 airplane types including the world’s largest and the heaviest-carrying ones, he dedicated a lot of energy to the development of tens of other aircraft, became the founder of an original school of design, reared a team of worthy followers to his cause. The design bureau founded by Oleg Konstantinovich, undergoing structural changes and being successively referred to as the "P.O. Box", Kiev Machine-Building Plant, and finally, Aeronautical Scientific & Technical Complex, was invariably connected with the name of its founder, remaining in the everyday life of millions of people just the "Antonov Design Bureau" because the name itself of this man has entered the aviation history for good and has become symbolic.
Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov was born on the 7th of February 1906 in Moscow region, in the family of Russian gentlefolk - Anna Yefimovna and Konstantin Konstantinovich Antonov.
In 1912 the Antonovs moved to Saratov, a city on the Volga river. It was there that little Oleg for the first time heard a story about aircraft from his cousin. In fact, no technical publications on aviation were available in Saratov at that time. Everything Oleg could find he cut out from newspapers and magazines compiling a sort of a reference book. «This collection was of great use for me, - Antonov wrote later, - I got used to see aircraft from the point of view of their progress». Together with the boys of his age, Oleg established a Society of Aviation Fans issuing a hand-written magazine. Mad about flying, these guys became the regular visitors of a local military airfield where they were allowed to rummage about among the piles of wrecked aircraft on the airfield outskirts. Oleg and his friends became habitués of the book market looking for any printed matter on aeronautics. Since 1923 he was active in the Moscow Air Fleet Friends Society. Here Oleg constructed gliders of his own design, in particular, a training vehicle named «Golub» («The Dove») whose clever design was acknowledged by a diploma. Indefatigable creative personality, his tenacious memory that held designs of almost all airplanes known at the time allowed the young designer, student of the shipbuilding faculty, hydroplanes division, of Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, to develop the OKA-3, Standart-1, Standart-2, OKA-7, OKA‑8 training gliders and his first record-setting glider – the «Gorod Lenina» («City of Lenin»).
Having graduated from the Institute at the end of 1930, Oleg Antonov was directed to Moscow to set up the Central Design Bureau for Gliders. In Tushino, near Moscow , a new glider-manufacturing factory was under construction, and in 1933, when construction of the factory was over, Antonov was appointed its Chief Designer. The Antonov ROT-FRONT series gliders set a number of flight distance records.
In the late 30ies Antonov was invited by Chief Designer A. S. Yakovlev to the latter’s design bureau and offered a post of leading engineer for training aircraft. Soon the World War II began. Antonov received a governmental order to launch production of his A-7 multi-seat glider for aerial delivery (designed 1940). In October, the factory was evacuated to the city of Tiumen in Siberia where over 500 transport gliders were built. At the time Antonov designs his “flying tank” – an original glider intended for delivery of a light tank. Piloted by S. Anokhin, the glider performed a towed flight led by the TB-3 heavy bomber designed by A.N. Tupolev. Unfortunately, numerous losses of the TB-3s in battles resulted in the consequent lack of this towing tool, and the whole alluring idea had to be abandoned.
In 1943 Antonov returned to Yakovlev’s design bureau and was offered to fill a vacancy of Yakovlev’s deputy. A great deal of his time and energy was devoted to the improvement of the Yak, one of the most mass-produced airplanes of the Second World War. Recollecting his work at Yakovlev’s, Antonov will say later: "For the rest of my life I internalized the credo of this remarkable designer: «It is necessary to do just what is necessary». At the same time Antonov did not give up his dream of making an aircraft for the peaceful sky. After the war Antonov requested Yakovlev to let him work independently and went to Novosibirsk where he headed Yakovlev’s subsidiary design office at the aircraft manufacturing factory. On May 31, 1946, the government of USSR transformed the subsidiary into a new design bureau. O. K. Antonov was appointed Chief Designer and charged with the development of an agricultural airplane, the SH-1 (Russian abbreviation for «Sel’sko-Hoziaystvenniy samoliot», i.e. «agricultural airplane»), known today worldwide as the AN-2. In September 1946 O.K. Antonov, in addition to his management of the design bureau, was vested with the functions of Director of the Siberian R&D Institute for Aeronautics. Antonov’s energy and ability to work allowed him to cope with the entire scope of his duties and the new design bureau’s firstborn first flew on the 31st of August 1947.
The following three years were spent in a rush work on arranging the team and setting up the aircraft series manufacturing. A number of the AN-2 versions for various applications in the national economy were designed simultaneously with the basic aircraft. This airplane has become the only aircraft serially produced for more than fifty years running. It gained a reputation for being an exceptionally reliable machine. During the years in service it has carried several hundred million passengers, delivered millions tons of cargo, fertilized millions of crop acres and was widely used in forestry. It visited practically every corner of the globe. For development of the AN-2 Antonov and his colleagues were awarded the USSR State Prize.
In 1952 O.K. Antonov and his Design Bureau key personnel moved to Kiev where they had to reestablish from scratch both the bureau and the production facility. At the end of the year 1953, the Design Bureau received an order to develop a transport airplane powered with two turboprop engines. The airplane was designed and constructed within two years. In 1958 the aircraft designated the AN-8 was put in series production at the Tashkent Aviation Plant.
Development of the AN-10 and AN-12 airplanes began in 1955, soon after the Design Bureau was visited by the USSR leader N. Khrushchev. During their conversation, O. K. Antonov proposed to design two versions of the same four-engined aircraft: one for passengers and another for cargoes. The concept was approved, and the team embarked upon solving this sophisticated problem. The AN-10 possessed a combination of qualities rare for a passenger airliner: high speed of flight, a relatively short runway required, and a capability to operate from/into unprepared and snow-covered runways. Taking into account these special features of the aircraft, Aeroflot operated the AN-10 on short inter-regional routes with unpaved and poorly prepared airfields. Off-design operational conditions, frequent takeoffs and landings resulted in the accelerated expiry of this aircraft service life. This caused the appearance of fatigue cracks in the AN-10’s primary structure, and in 1972 it resulted in the fatal crash. Antonov took it very close to heart. He shared his feelings with his friend, Nikolai Amosov: «Never again shall I design big passenger airplanes», he said, « I can’t stand simultaneous death of dozens of people. After that fatal crash I used to wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat from any phone call. I grabbed the phone receiver with a trembling hand in expectation of a new accident with my airplane». Since then, the structural fatigue problems became a major focus of designers’ activities. All airplanes under development are now subjected to cyclic load tests for the sake of assured structural reliability and durability.
Having developed the АN-10 and the АN-12, Antonov Design Bureau gained a foothold in the family of leading aircraft manufacturing companies of the country. His own, Antonov school of design was being created, a new generation of talented team managers was being formed, industrial and residential construction was expanding, social problems were being resolved.
In 1962, O.K. Antonov was nominated General Designer. Two years before, in 1960, he successfully defended his doctorate thesis, and took a doctorate degree in the Moscow Aviation Institute. The same year he was elected associate member of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
Whatever he worked at, Oleg Konstantinovich paid equal attention both to the major, and to the minor efforts implemented under his management, for all creative endeavors were of equal importance to him. Simultaneously with the aircraft, he constructed a number of all-metal gliders: the A-11, A-13, the A-13M powered glider, the record-setting А-15. A special award of FAI (International Aeronautical Federation), Diplome Paul Tissandier, was presented to O.K. Antonov for construction of gliders. Antonov said: «Shipping has been evolving for a long time. There were frigates, cruisers, battleships; recently the nuclear-powered ships emerged, but the sailing yachts remain. The same with gliders. They will be built and flown as long as there exist the updrafts and the humans striving to fly. And those will stay forever.»
Antonov perfectly realized that the vast territory of the Soviet Union dictated a necessity for a small undemanding aircraft which could be operated from unprepared airfields. That was the reason to construct an ES-KA-VE, i.e. «Short-Takeoff Aircraft» (nowadays the term is widely used in international practice).The small airplane later called «Pchiolka» («Little Bee») was designed to carry four persons, however transformed in its serial production to a seven-seater, and eleven-seater, subsequently.
In the period of 1957-1959 the AN-24 prototype was constructed, with the welded/bonded elements widely used in its structure.
Difficulties connected with the introduction of new technique were surmounted owing to the fixed point of view of Antonov.
Fourteen derivatives of this aircraft were produced, including the AN-26 transport, and the AN-30 for aerial photography. It was a family of very reliable aircraft, and still it plays an important role in transportation of passengers, cargoes, in variety of special applications to this very day.
The AN-22 «Antei» («Antheus») was another creation of Antonov’s team. The program became a step forward in the aircraft engineering and resulted in the first widebody airplane in the world. The dimensions of AN-22 surpassed anything existing in the world of aviation at that time, and required a good deal of design and technological solutions, and the immense scope of experimental efforts, as well. The aircraft immediately became a major sensation and hit the limelight of the 26th International Air Show in Paris.
«The Times» wrote that the aircraft proved the USSR progress in the aircraft manufacturing. The foreign correspondents described the designer as follows: «Mr. Antonov is an elegant person with artistic manners, refined analytic intellect. He speaks English and French.»
The starting flights of AN-22 showed that the aviation has made a new step forward. The aircraft demonstrated this by delivering a lot of oversized cargoes, such as gas turbine stations, earth-moving machines, trucks, etc. to the country's extreme north. Additionally, the USSR armed forces received a powerful instrument to increase their mobility.
For many years Antonov had been striving for the fuel-efficient gas-turbine engines for small aircraft. When such engines appeared, he started detailed re-development of his AN-14 aircraft under the new AN-28 designation, and planned to make a new variant of the renowned AN-2 calling it the AN-3 agricultural aircraft.
A characteristic feature of Antonov was the ability to defend his own point of view with regard to how expedient construction of any aircraft might be.
As a rule, his position was grounded on the profound knowledge of situation and its integrated analysis.
To keep abreast of scientific developments, in the 1970’s Antonov inclines the leading specialists of his bureau in favor of airlifters powered by bypass turbojet engines.
An extremely difficult task of constructing the AN-124 «Ruslan» long range heavy transport aircraft was accomplished under the leadership of Antonov. In this design Antonov introduced several technical solutions, very risky for that time.
In particular, a supercritical swept wing in such category of aircraft was used for the first time in the world practice. Wide application of composites was one of ways to achieve an improved weight-to-payload ratio. Generally, «Ruslan» turned to be an exceptionally successful design. It set thirty records (totally, more than 500 world records).
«Ruslan» was the last program directed by Antonov personally. After his death, the remaining ideas of General Designer were implemented by his followers.
Aiming at the new goals Antonov, in his last speech addressed the personnel of his Bureau: «Further we can advance only through some kind of a revolutionary process, developing new ideas. As you know, there are no limits for novel technologies.»
The time distance which grows each year after Antonov’s death contribute in making his image even more vivid and complete.
Not only an outstanding aircraft designer was Antonov, but a person of a special mold.
He was well educated and had a specific, elegant, confident style.
He possessed a peculiar charm combining a great earnestness with his pure gentleness and natural refinement; a strong mind and a noble soul coalesced in this man.
Oleg Antonov was a person rather different from with a typical Soviet administrator. He was a fearless and resolute man, and felt free enough to touch any subject in a conversation.
The basis of Antonov’s creative activity was his fundamental and varied knowledge of engineering. He knew about each more or less important achievement in the field of technology and, naturally, everything about aircraft. His amazing memory stored all data on the airplanes of the present and past.
You had only to ask him about anything of this kind and he would tell you an absorbing and detailed story of aircraft, events, forgotten sensations.
Everybody knew Oleg Antonov a restrained, well-balanced person.
He carried an absolute authority with his subordinates. He used to say: «...Organizing a unanimous; productive team is a special, superior task... A collective is not established under any sort of order, although the orders will be necessary. It is not convoked just through the assemblage and rotation of people.
The individuals are not integrated into a team by means of the edifice they work in. The most essential thing without which any team cannot go on is a commonality of purpose… Establishing of a friendly, well-working team is a special effort, a higher order task.»
Yelizaveta Shakhatuni, a Lenin Prize winner, one of Antonov’s team-mates who had been working with him side by side for more than forty years, recalls: "His principal features were implicit natural endowments, a unique love for his job and, of course, his intellectuality combined with perfect manners». First of all, these qualities determined his relationship with the team. Anyone coming to work with Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov got immediately infected with his enthusiasm. He was able to position people so that they needed no impetus to go on working.
His executives themselves turned to be popularizers of his ideas and pursuits…Antonov could recognize his mistake in public: «I have to overcome my blunder», — he acknowledged sometimes so easily and unexpectedly.”
Interesting is Antonov’s opinion about the administrator's personality in the present-day life: "A top executive should be an educated and well-bread individual. I am quite sure, he should be extremely patient, modest, even meek! This gentleness in contacts do not contradict the strong will. Such administrator should possess a gift to persuade people, basing on his extensive experience and knowledge, and never resort to the plain order… Certainly, the administrator should not be a dim-witted performer himself. Doing even a minor thing he should not forget of the goal, of the fundamental tasks.»
Antonov was skilful in painting, and knew this art in detail. «If not for designing, I would like to become a painter», he confessed once.
Sense of beauty never failed, and is obvious in his writings entitled: «On Wings Made of Wood and Canvas», «A Dozen of Beginnings», «For Anyone, and For Me», in numerous articles , lectures and speeches. In the book «Muse in Temple of Science», among the poems written by other scientists one can find Antonov’s verses.
“Aviation especially reveals the relationship between engineering perfection and beauty”, wrote Antonov. “Long time ago, at the dawn of aeronautics, the aircraft designer captain F. Ferbere used to say: “A beautiful plane flies well, an ugly one flies poorly…” In process of work the planned aircraft becomes a better shaped, graceful, harmonious creation just before our very eyes .”
Antonov paid much attention to amateur designers and inventors.
He appreciated these restless people and assisted them as far as possible.
Throughout his life Oleg Antonov was fond of athletics. It went in for skiing, played tennis, ping-pong and flew in gliders.
«Sports are in particular indispensable for the elderly, believe me, I have an experience...».
Oleg Antonov was a man who could not become old — one can easily understand it: such a blood, a creative fury could not be kept in check of the years. He perished within a fortnight, in the same manner he had been living: in a flash. As though he had chosen a proper way of dying: no step-by-step degradation was appropriate here.
Oleg Antonov is highly valued by the people who worked with him. His memory is piously revered by anyone who ever met him.
Dmitrо Kiva, General Designer of ANTONOV Company, recalls: “Everybody was carried away by his knowledge, immense experience, striking intuition combined with the superior human qualities: a skill to attract, enthrall, and to unite other hearts, making them confident and able to fulfill any complex task”. This confidence remains with the team until now. As just another airplane carrying the “AN” symbol flies up, we realize: Oleg Konstantinovich is here.