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Cover story……Little Annie turns 30 Text and photos by Mark Mansfield

HAVING FLOWN over 1 600 children since June 2014 when it arrived in South Africa from Russia, what is considered as one of the world’s most famous Antonov An-2 aircraft – also known as Little Annie — recently celebrated her 30th birthday at Grasslands airfield, near Pretoria which is to become her permanent base. It was 30 years ago that this particular Antonov came off the production line.

Flying under the auspices of the Just Love Mission – Care-2-Share, Little Annie has become a symbol of hope for many children who have never had the opportunity to fly. “Our vision is to change people’s lives positively through neighbourly love (Ubuntu) by means of aviation awareness in the ‘person’ of Little Annie, an Antonov An-2 aircraft that was donated out of love and flown all the way from Siberia, Russia, to South Africa for this specific purpose,” said Mark Hill, owner and pilot of Little Annie.

Most of the children who are flown on board Little Annie are all from disadvantaged communities or from orphanages, and to help relate to them, Little Annie has been personified as an orphan herself. “We use Little Annie as a lively and vibrant personality (based on the original comic strip and subsequent musical Annie) in the form of an aircraft, to kindle hope and to spur a desire in others to give according to their ability,” said Hill.

little annie turns 30

He continued: “The concept of a ‘living aircraft’ is uniquely attractive and has the potential to captivate the imagination through her exciting adventures, as people meet Little Annie and see how she lives out her attitude of Care-2-Share and Believe the Impossible”.

The aircraft has been used, and still continues, to provide much needed humanitarian aid and an opportunity to experience flight for those who did not believe they would ever know the joy of flight. It is indeed Little Annie’s mission, through her exposure in ‘person’, through media coverage (printed media, radio and possibly a reality show,) and through social media (website and Facebook), to become a household name with a significant following.

“She will thus be instrumental in building productive relationships between sponsors and communities through the medium of aviation. Through hard work infused with ample humour and using this tangible conduit through which sustainable social and economic environments are created, we believe that the Just Love Mission provides a winning recipe to see people uplifted, the environment protected, and a positive attitude promoted among both volunteers and communities,” said Hill. Little Annie relies solely on sponsorships, and costing R10 000 per hour to operate, the world’s biggest single engine biplane uses around 200 litres of Avgas an hour and around six litres of oil an hour.

“Just Love Mission (JLM) is a charity born out of love for aviation and the positive effects it can have not only on individual people but communities as a whole. We believe that anybody can do something spectacular, but if it is not done with love, the shine wears off and it has little lasting impact,” said Hill.

The idea for the project was conceived by Mark Hill, a seasoned pilot with 36 years experience, in both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. In 2002, aviation enthusiast, Gary Price, suggested the An-2 as the ideal aircraft type to reach rural areas with unconventional landing space. However, a number of personal attempts to secure an An-2 failed.

little annie turns 30

Little Annie is seen leading a Slick 540 in a two-ship formation over the pan in Botswana where it did its water-skiing stunt.

It was only in 2011 when a personal friend, Niall Olver, CEO of ExecuJet Global, discussed the idea with his friend and business associate, Andrei Martirosov, CEO of UTair, in Russia, (who thought the idea to be “cool”), that this dream was realised and ratified on condition that Little Annie was flown from Siberia to Cape Town as part of the Ocean-2- Ocean theme. She was subsequently adopted from a ‘Siberian orphanage’ (UTair Cargo) and flown all the way from Tyumen (Siberia) to Cape Town and then back to Pretoria.......................... For the FULL ARTICLE please subscribe to our digital edition.

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