After successful operations of the An-24T tactical transport in austere locations, interest in a version with a retractable cargo ramp increased. Initial studies for the retractable ramp were carried out as part of the projected An-40 medium transport. When given the go-ahead for the An-26 in March 1968 the Antonov OKB adapted the ramp design of the An-40 to the An-24 fuselage, thus was born the An-26. Particular attention was given to the military mission and the majority of early An-26 production was delivered to the VT-A.
Using the majority of the An-24 airframe, with its high-set cantilevered wings, twin turboprops and stalky main undercarriage, the An-26 included military equipment, such as tip-up paratroop canvas seats, overhead traveling hoist, bulged observation windows and parachute static line attachment cables. The An-26 made its public debut at the 27th Paris Air Show at Le Bourget where the second prototype was shown in the static aircraft park.
The An-26 is also manufactured without a license agreement in China by Xian Aircraft Factory as the Y-14, later changed to be included in the Xian Y7 series.