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At Miramar, High-Flying Power and Old-Time Charm


An estimated one-million people flocked to the Miramar Air Show this weekend -- that’s record attendance. It also marked the 60th year the Navy’s Blue Angels have somersaulted and barrel-rolled through the skies over San Diego. But the world’s largest military air show also featured more modest air technology. KPBS Radio’s Andrew Phelps filed this report.

The crowds flocked to the V-22 Osprey, a hybrid airplane and helicopter that can take off and land vertically. And the people marveled at the jet-black Stealth Fighter, invisible to radar and practically silent. But on the other end of the tarmac stood an old warhorse: A bright yellow propeller plane.

Varley: What you’re looking at is a 1947 vintage Russian-designed aircraft. It’s the world’s largest, single-engine biplane.

That’s John Varley. He’s part of a team from Upland that flies the Antonov An-2, a Soviet-era military plane.

Varley: We think this airplane was used in Chechnya in the war there as a parachute jump plane.

The plane isn’t as nimble or fast as what the Blue Angels fly: the F/A-18 Hornet, whose acoustic footprint pierces the fuselage of this old plane.

But Varley says the An-2 is versatile. It has served as air ambulance, crop duster, cargo plane, and even commercial airliner, although this cabin isn’t pressurized for your comfort.

Varley: When you consider, in the 40s and 50s in Russia, they didn’t really have a lot of comforts, this was probably a very stylish way to fly. The airline seats – they’re quite comfortable. Comparatively comfortable. Not like the plush seats that you find in the DC-10’s and the 747’s, but…

A ride in this old plane is not plush. But it is serene, cruising a thousand feet over San Diego. Those fancy fighter jets can’t give you that. Varley’s bi-plane is a bygone reminder, a contrast to the modern and sometimes terrifying air power at Miramar. For KPBS, I'm Andrew Phelps.

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