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Beriev A-50 (Mainstay)

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) Aircraft


The Beriev A-50 Mainstay is a Cold War relic of the Soviet Union, currently serving the Russian military in an upgraded form.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Beriev A-50 (Mainstay) Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 6/21/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Beriev A-50 (NATO codename: 'Mainstay') serves the modern Russian Air Force in the Airborne and Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) role - commonly recognized in U.S. speak as 'AWACS'. The framework is that of the Soviet Ilyushin IL-76 'Candid' transport aircraft of the Cold War period with modifications completed by the Beriev concern to produce a new aircraft for the AWACS role. The most distinguishing feature of the A-50 series is its radome which sits over the rear dorsal section of the fuselage. Service introduction of the aircraft occurred in 1984 and production spanned from 1978 to 1992 to which some forty examples were completed. The A-50 remains in active service (though in modernized forms) with the Russian Air Force as well as the Indian Air Force - the only two global operators of the type.

The A-50 was developed as a successor to the aging Tupolev Tu-126 ('Moss') aircraft line which first appeared in 1962 (service entry followed in 1965). The Tu-126 was converted from the Tu-114 commercial airliner and became the Soviet Union's first AEW platform. In 1971, a prototype Ilyushin IL-76 recorded its first-flight and saw introduction in 1974 with nearly 1,000 units made over the life of its production run. This aircraft proved a multirole performer for the Soviet Empire and thus was selected by authorities for conversion to the AWACS role in the late 1960s with work continuing into the early-to-mid 1980s.

A first-flight of an A-50 prototype was had on December 19th, 1978 and twenty-four examples were delivered for service in 1984.

Beyond the obvious external structural additions, the internal landscape of the transport was reworked to take on crew stations with the total crew complement numbering fifteen. The 'Liana' surveillance radar system was fitted as a suspended saucer-like structure over the rear of the fuselage and this powerful system allowed for target tracking out to 650 kilometers for aerial threats (300 km otherwise). The radar was to assist in both intercept and ground-attack missions as well as provide valuable battlefield surveillance and air traffic control.

Beriev A-50 (Mainstay) (Cont'd)

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) Aircraft

Beriev A-50 (Mainstay) (Cont'd)

Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) Aircraft

The aircraft sports dimensions that include a length of 152.7 feet, a wingspan of 165.5 feet and a height of 48.4 feet. Empty weight is 165,400lb against an MTOW of 365,000lb. Power is from 4 x Soloviev D-30KP turbofan engines developing 26,500lb of thrust each, providing speeds nearing 560 miles per hour and ranges out to 4,000 miles (a built-in air refueling capability is seen in modernized forms for extended operational ranges). The aircraft's service ceiling is approximately 40,000 feet.

While A-50 marks the standard initial production forms, several modernized variants have emerged since including the A-50M and A-50U. The M-model adds the aforementioned in-flight refueling capability and the U-model of 1995 features extensive updates to its equipment (primarily the Vega-M radar fit, giving simultaneous tracking of 50 targets out to 125 nautical miles) replacing original first-run models in service. The Indian Air force operates the A-50E/I variant which includes Israeli EL/W-2090 series radar as well as Aviadvigatel PS-90 A-76 series turbofan engines, the same as fitted to the Ilyushin IL-76 family as well as the Tupolev Tu-204 narrow-body airliner and Ilyushin IL-96 wide-body airliner breeds.

The A-50I was a planned variant for the Chinese Air Force to be outfitted with Israeli radar but pressure put on the Israelis by the Americans forced the cancellation of this design.

Several 'one-off' aircraft have also been developed: Izdeliye-676 and Izdeliye-776 both were designed along the lines of 'telemetry and tracking' platforms. Izdeliye-976 (SKIP) was added as a cruise missile support vehicle (serving missile tracking). Izdeliye-1076 became a 'special mission' aircraft.

The Russian Air Force has about 22 x A-50M models currently (2017) in service with another 4 x A-50U on hand. The Indian Air Force maintains a stable of five and these serve with No.50 Squadron out of Agra Air Force Station in north-central India.

The A-50 has been identified through satellite imagery as actively deployed in Syria during the ongoing Syrian Civil War (2011-Present) which includes Russian involvement on the side of the Assad regime.

Program Updates

October 2017 - The A-50 Mainstay series is set to be succeeded by the in-development A-100 AEW platform sometime in 2020.


YEAR: 1984
STATUS: Active, In-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Beriev / Ilyushin - Soviet Union / Russia
CREW: 10
LENGTH: 162.73 ft (49.6 m)
WIDTH: 165.68 ft (50.5 m)
HEIGHT: 48.39 ft (14.75 m)
EMPTY WEIGHT: 165,347 lb (75,000 kg)
MTOW: 374,786 lb (170,000 kg)
POWER: 4 x Soloviev D-30KP turbofan engines developing 26,500lb of thrust each.
SPEED: 559 mph (900 kph; 486 kts)
CEILING: 39,370 feet (12,000 m; 7.46 miles)
RANGE: 4,660 miles (7,500 km; 4,050 nm)
OPERATORS: India; Russia (Soviet Union)

None. Mission equipment carried for battlespace direction.
Variants / Models

• A-50 'Mainstay' - Base Series Designation
• A-50M - Modernized variant; inflight refueling capability.
• A-50U - Modernized Russian Air Force variant
• A-50I - Proposed variant for China; fitted with Israeli-originated radar; cancelled.
• A-50E/I - indian Air Force model with Israeli EL/W-2090 series radar fit and 4 x Aviadvigatel PS-90 A-76 turbofan engines.
• Izdeliye-676 - Telemetry and Tracking (T&T) platform; single example.
• Izdeliye-776 - Telemetry and Tracking (T&T) platform; single example.
• Izdeliye-976 (SKIP) - Airborne Check-Measure-and-Control-Center (ACMCC) platform; six examples including single prototype.
• Izdeliye-1076 - Special mission platform; single example.

Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (559mph).

Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Beriev A-50 (Mainstay)'s operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production (40)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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