A twin-engine Ilyushin Il-14 (NATO code name Crate), North Vietnam’s primary cargo and troop transport plane, flew over Tchepone Airfield in Laos on Oct. 25, 1961—a flight photographed by a U.S. Air Force McDonnell RF-101C Voodoo reconnaissance plane—and dropped supplies to North Vietnamese Army soldiers and Pathet Lao communist insurgents in Laos, just as Crates been doing since mid-to-late 1960.
The Il-14, essentially a modified version of the Soviet Il-12 Coach cargo plane, first flew on Oct. 1, 1950, and entered production in 1954. Moscow provided Hanoi with 45 Il-14s in 1958. The planes became part of North Vietnam’s first operational air force unit, the 919th Air Transport Regiment, formed in January 1959. The NVA mainly used the Crate to deliver supplies to its soldiers and its communist allies in Laos and northern Cambodia.
Despite being outwardly similar to the Coach, the Crate was designed to correct some of the earlier transport’s shortcomings. For example, the Crate’s larger wing and broader tail fin made it more stable during single-engine flight. Those modifications, and the installation of more powerful engines, created a plane that was safer and slightly faster than its predecessor and also benefited from a larger carrying capacity.
The Crate was easy to fly and maintain, while also being robust enough to land on undeveloped airfields and withstand Southeast Asia’s harsh operating environment. The aircraft’s lack of instrumentation and modern navigation equipment would have limited it to a visual flight regime in most Western air forces, but North Vietnam’s air force flew Crates in dangerous weather conditions. The resulting accident rate, particularly during the plane’s early years, proved costly. Less than 20 remained in service by 1975, and only 12 were operational in 1979.
Serving alongside the Soviet-supplied Litvinov Li-2 cargo plane, the Il-14 gave the North Vietnamese a badly needed air transport capability and pilot training platform during the early years of the war. Postwar Vietnam retired its last Il-14 by 1998, ending 40 years of active service.
Engines: Two 1,900 shaft horsepower Shvetsov ASh-82T radial engines
Wingspan: 104 feet
Length: 73 feet, 2 inches
Maximum weight: 39,683 pounds
Load: 22 troops or 5,291 pounds
Maximum speed: 250 mph
Cruising speed: 207 mph
Maximum range: 811 miles