Week of February 17, 1997

By Vovick Karnozov

IL-76: Twenty Years In Civil Service

The Il-76 has been a very important element of Soviet and Russian aviation for almost a quarter of a century. At the moment, various "seventy-sixes" account for 80% of the Russian Military Transport Aviation inventory. Despite the burden of years, the plane's career is not coming to an end.


The work on a new military airlifter began in 1967, after the Soviet Air Force had issued its requirements for the An-12's successor. The new aircraft would have similar field performance, but much greater speed and payload. Taking for granted its superiority in the field of military transport design over any potential rivals, the Antonov design bureau offered an enlarged version of the An-12. It incorporated a set of proven design solutions like a zero-swept, shoulder-mounted wing and existing turboprop engines. What did not allow the Antonov designers room to be inventive was the burden of experience gained from An-8, An-12 and An-22 turboprop heavy-lifters, which were widely regarded classic transport aircraft.

To Antonov's surprise, the Soviet Defence Ministry opted for Ilyushin's offer of a futuristically-looking airplane with a swept wing, four bypass jet engines on underwing pylons and a large T-like empennage. Although Ilyushin's design was not so economical as Antonov's, it did look very impressive. "A good-looking plane cannot fly badly," Andrei Tupolev once said, and the Generals seemed to have shared this viewpoint.

The Il-76 was the first aircraft to be created under the supervision of Genrikh Novozhilov, who replaced Sergei Ilyushin as the General Designer on 26 July 1970. With a take-off weight of 157 t, the new plane was capable of lifting a 40 t cargo from concrete runways and a 33 t one from unpaved strips. The first Soviet jet-powered transport aircraft was powered by four Pavel Soloviev's D-30KP engines of 12,000 kgf each.

Construction of the first development prototype began in December 1969 at the Ilyushin pilot plant. The maiden flight occurred on 25 March 1971 from Khodynka airfield located inside of Moscow. Having spent an hour in the air, the prototype safely landed at the Flight Test and Research Centre (LII) airport in Zhukovsky. In this flight the plane was handled by honored test-pilot E. Kuznetsov, a Hero of the Soviet Union. To speed up the certification process, in 1973 the Ilyushin pilot plant assembled the second development prototype.

Military service

In 1974, the Il-76 successfully passed state acceptance trials and entered service with the Military Transport Aviation (VTA). Its mass production was set at Chkalov's Aircraft Production Organization of Tashkent (TAPO) in the Republic of Uzbekistan. At first, many parts for this series of airframes, including the undercarriage, were manufactured at the Voronezh plant in Central Russia.

Soon after entering production, the basic airframe was improved. The Il-76M (M for "Modified") had a maximum take-off weight of 170 t, with payload being 48 t. Among other items, it could carry a T-72 main battle tank. The Il-76MD followed, with a take-off weight of 190 t and payload of 50 t, soon becoming the most numerous version.

The Il-76MD can carry either 145 armed troops or 126 paratroopers. A double-decker version accommodates up to 225 troops. Alternatively, it can carry three BMD-1 infantry fighting vehicles. Although the maximum cruise speed was set at 780 km/h, the plane is able to develop 825 km/h. Such a high speed was thought to be necessary when flying over hostile territory to reduce the likelihood of being shot down by enemy anti-aircraft defence systems.

During the war in Afghanistan Il-76s flew 14,700 missions. During the time of hostilities, they transported 90% of the troops and 75% of the cargo. Unable to shoot down a high-flying Ilyushin, the rebels tried to damage it at take-off and landing, lying in ambush near major air bases. As a result, Il-76s were often hit by shoulder-launched Stinger and Strela heat-seeking missiles and large-calibre machine-guns. However, the VTA's Il-76s showed a very low attrition rate, thanks to the strong airframe able to absorb extensive damage.

Warrior becomes civilian

In December 1976 the Soviet Government ordered two military Il-76s to be handed over to Aeroflot. The move was caused by bad weather conditions - the windy winter had closed rail lines and motorways with piles of snow. This couple of half-civil, half-military Ilyushins were ferried to the Tumen region, from where they started to deliver food and essential materials to the Russian North regions. Hundreds of flights were made to Anadyr, Surgut, Nizhny Vartovsk, Nadym, Norilsk and other cities. Later the two-some conveyed bulky equipment for the builders of the Urengoi-Tchelyabinsk gas pipeline.

This first successful experience in the civil market prompted the Ilyushin design bureau to develop dedicated civil versions of the basic military Il-76M and Il-76MD, called the Il-76T and Il-76TD respectively. Those differed from their military sisters chiefly in on-board equipment. However, dedicated military airframes have continued to work hard in the civil market. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine and other newly-independent states transferred many Il-76s from military inventory to civil air companies.

Besides, military Il-76s are now readily available for lease - the Russian, Ukrainian and other air forces thus try to compensate for under-financing from state budgets. According to the Ukrainian Civil Aviation Authorities (Ukraviatrans), civil operators have 8 Il-76s in their own fleets, with 117 more aircraft being hired, predomimantly from the Defence Ministry.


The basic design has served as a platform for a myriad of specialized aircraft like the Il-76P fire-fighting bomber, Il-76PS search and rescue plane, Il-76MD "Scalpel-MT" flying hospital, Il-76MDK "zero-gravitation" plane for training of cosmonauts, Il-76VKP flying command post, Il-78 and Il-78M tankers and A-50 AWACS aircraft. Besides, tens of Il-76s have been converted into various flying laboratories, test-beds and experimental aircraft for testing new weapons, on-board equipment and engines. For example, Gromov's Flight Test and Research Institute uses its Il-76s to flight-test Perm Motors PS-90, Lotarev D-18T, Motor SICh D-27 and Kuznetsov NK-93...

The Il-78 tanker - the most remarkable Il-76 derivatiove - became operational in 1987. Among its "clients" are Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M bombers, A-50 AWACS planes, Tu-142 and Il-38 maritime patrol aircraft, MiG-31 and Su-30 interceptors, Su-24M tactical bombers. In the future the list will be extended with the Su-34 interdiction aircraft, Su-30MKI and Su-35 multi-role tactical fighters. The Il-78's total fuel capacity is 92,800 kg, of which 85,750 kg is transferable. The Ministry of Emergencies (MChS) has five Il-76TDs; some of which have been specially modified to carry Eurocopter BO-105 or VK-117 light helicopters inside of cargo cabins. Thus transported, a helicopter can fly half an hour after being unloaded. The MChS' "aero-mobile" BO-105s and VK-117s have been successfully used in search-and-rescue and medical evacuation roles in remote regions.

MChS widely uses its Il-76s in the fire-fighting bomber role to extinguish wood fires. On a typical mission, an Il-76 releases water from a height of few hundred meters. In one pass the aircraft usually drops 40 t of water, putting out the fire in a rectangle sized 200 m vs 700 m.


The Il-76 is well known around the world. "It is hard to find an airport where the Il-76 has not been," Genrikh Novozhilov says. Readily available, the aircraft has been actively used for transporting various bulky cargoes in all corners of the world. Under the UN banner Il-76s delivered food and medicaments to Sarajevo, Ethiopia, Zaire and many other places.

About 100 out of 950 airframes built so far have been exported. Ilyushin says that depending on customer and on-board equipment, aircraft were sold abroad for US $13-39 million a piece. The list of exporters includes Libya, Syria, Iraq and India. The manufacturer is now fulfilling an order for 12 Il-76s from China. Foreigners made their own contribution into the history of the Il-76. For example, before the war in the Gulf, Iraq had converted some of its Il-76s into Adnan-1 and -2 AWACS aircraft by fitting them with French radars.

New versions

After the maximum weight of cargo had been increased to 50 t, it became apparent that in many cases the volume of the cargo (321 cu.m) cabin was inadequate. To increase it up to 400 cu.m, Genrikh Novozhilov decided to extend the fuselage with two 3.3-m insertions before and after the wing attachment points. Design work on the extended versions - Il-76MF for the Russian Air Force and Il-76MT for civil operators - began ten years ago. Those versions were meant to be powered by a new 14,000-kgf engine from the Rybinsk-based RMKB design bureau. However, its development was cancelled due to financial difficulties.

In the early Nineties, Ilyushin understood that the thirsty and noisy D-30KP might soon bring an end to the Il-76 career. At that moment there were three candidates to power the Il-76 - the Perm Motors PS-90, CFMI CFM-56 and Pratt & Whitney PW2037. Soon the third engine offered at US $10.8 million was found too expensive. The CFM-56 still remains under consideration for installation on civil versions, whereas the PS-90, available for US $3.16 million, has been chosen to power the Il-76MF. The Il-76MF's PS-90A is rated at 14,500 kgf for operations in normal conditions with 16,000 kgf being the limit for operations from short airfields.

The Il-76MF development prototype had its maiden flight on 2 August 1995, with first-class test-pilot A.Knyshev at the controls. In comparison with the MD, the MF offers a 15% better fuel efficiency and 20% bigger range. With a 50 t load the new plane can cover 5,800 km instead of 4,700. The MF's cargo floor is 31.14 m long, while that of the MD's is only 24.5 m.

The Kupol-3 radar complex has taken the place of the older Kupol-76. Other new features are a satellite-based navigation system and the absence of the 23mm cannons which used to project from the turret in the rear fuselage on the MD. Moreover, the cockpit has been fitted with two multi-functional displays in place of needle indicators, which allow a reduction in crew from five to four members. According to Radii Papkovsky, chief designer for the Il-76, Ilyushin is working on a two-crew cockpit for the Il-76MF with liquid-crystal colour displays and state-of-the-art avionics.

In December, TAPO and Ilyushin offered a number of CIS operators a new civil version equipped with modern collision-avoidance and navigation systems. Thus equipped, the aircraft can provide the 300-m height separation demanded for flights over the Atlantic. To fly that long, the plane would be powered by either PS-90 or CFM-56 - with the new powerplant the Il-76 is capable of transporting a 20 t cargo over 8,500 km.

Leasing Il-76

Although demand in new freighters exists, the majority of CIS operators cannot afford to pay Rbs 75 for a new Il-76. Because of this TAPO does not have any new orders except for 12 Il-76s for China. At the moment about 60 Il-76 airframes are in various stages of completion, with most of them being "white tails". To help the enterprise survive, last year the Uzbeki Government granted it a credit worth Uzbeki Sum 600 million.

In December, Vadim Kucherov, General Director of the Tashkent Aircraft Production Association (TAPO), announced the intention of his enterprise, the National Bank of Uzbekistan, the Ilyushin design bureau and a number of American commercial structures to form a financial/aircraft-leasing company. It is reported that several Russian air companies have expressed an interest in leasing as many as 40 Il-76s. According to Kucherov, TAPO has mastered production of new pylons for the PS-90 and CFM-56, offering operators to reengine their old Il-76s.

Veteran solders on

The Il-76 proved reliable in service, showing an incident rate of one event per 6,000 flight hours. However, the fleet is getting older, needing regular preventive work. Civil aircraft - about 180 airframes only in Russia - are repaired at AO Aircraft Repair Plant of Bykovo; whereas military ones at the 123th Repair Factory in Staraya Russa and 360th Repair Factory in Ryazan. The Ukrainans overhaul their Ilyushins at the factory in Belaya Tserkov. Nowadays to overhaul an Il-76TD costs some Rbs 5 b. Faced with financial difficulties, the military repair factories now offer various services to civil operators, but the latter still prefer Bykovo.

The Il-76 brought new quality to the Soviet military and civil operators. With the advent of the plane in large numbers the Soviet Paratroops Forces (VDV) became a truly mobile power capable of fulfilling strategic tasks. In the shape of the Il-76T/TD Ilyushin has given civil operators unique cargo capabilities, which in many cases are still to be matched by other aircraft manufacturers.

In many respects the Il-76 has been a true success. At the same time, the "seventy-six" failed in its primary mission - it did not replace the An-12...

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