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Ilyushin IL-38 (May)

Anti-Submarine Maritime Patrol Aircraft

The Ilyushin IL-38 May has served with the Soviet-Russian Navy since its inception in 1967.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 8/7/2017
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Year: 1968
Manufacturer(s): Ilyushin - Soviet Union
Production: 62
Capabilities: Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW); Anti-Ship; Transport; VIP Transport; Reconnaissance (RECCE);
Crew: 9 or 10
Length: 129.92 ft (39.6 m)
Width: 122.77 ft (37.42 m)
Height: 33.33 ft (10.16 m)
Weight (Empty): 74,296 lb (33,700 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 139,994 lb (63,500 kg)
Power: 4 x ZMKB Progress (Ivchenko) AI-20M turboprop engines delivering 4,250 horsepower each.
Speed: 404 mph (650 kph; 351 kts)
Ceiling: 32,808 feet (10,000 m; 6.21 miles)
Range: 5,903 miles (9,500 km; 5,130 nm)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,050 ft/min (320 m/min)
Operators: India; Russia; Soviet Union
The Ilyushin IL-38 (NATO codename of "May") is a maritime patrol and anti-submarine platform utilized solely by the navies of Russia and India. The IL-38 is a militarized development of the IL-18, a civil passenger airliner produced by the same Soviet state bureau. Besides her similar outward appearance to the IL-18, the IL-38 shares only a few key features with the original civil airliner - the most notable of these being the turboprop engines. Additionally, the IL-38 fields a revised nose assembly making her some 13 feet, 1.5 inches longer than the IL-18. The wings have also been relocated forward along the fuselage to compensate for the added mission equipment weight and adjusted center of gravity and the cabin windows prevalent in the civilian model have been reduced in number for the IL-38. As such, the IL-38 is generally regarded as a "new-build" aircraft through-and-through and implementation of specialized onboard systems justify its dedicated role.

A prototype version was first flown on September 28th, 1961. By 1967, the aircraft had entered production under the designation of "IL-38". The aircraft was a regular performer within the inventory of the then-Soviet Naval Aviation service until the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, the IL-38 has operated under the banner of the resurging Russian Naval Aviation service. Since production of the IL-38 completed in 1972, its primary roles have been gradually replaced by the more powerful and long-range four-engine Tupolev Tu-142 ("Bear"). Despite the appearance of the Bear series, the IL-38 still maintains operational value to the Russian Navy even today. Some 57 IL-38 examples are believed to have been produced for the Soviet/Russian Navy with a further 5 delivered to India.

The aircraft sported a smooth cylindrical fuselage and definite streamlined shape. The cockpit was held well-forward in the design, fitted just aft of the nose cone. Under the nose cone assembly lay the weather radar. Located just aft and below the cockpit flight deck was the Berkut (meaning "Golden Eagle" and known as "Wet Eye" to NATO) search radar fitted into a noticeable fuselage blister. Wings were low-mounted monoplanes set ahead of amidships. The engines - four in number - sat within slender streamlined nacelles jutting out from each wing leading edge (two engines to a wing). The empennage was more or less conventional with its tall vertical tail fin. Horizontal stabilizers were fitted slightly aft of the tail fin. Between the horizontal stabilizers and under the tail fin lay a boom housing the Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD). Mission ordnance was held within two internal bomb bays - one arranged forward of the wing assemblies to house sonobouys and the other aft to house the weapons proper. A rear starboard side cabin door was the method of entry and exit for the crew. The undercarriage was a conventional tricycle arrangement featuring a pair of four-wheeled main landing gear legs and a two-wheeled nose landing gear leg. The standard operating crew consisted of nine or ten personnel to include the two pilots, a flight engineer, sensor operators, MAD operator, tactical coordinator and applicable mission observers.

Power for the IL-38 was delivered through two sets of ZMKB Progress (Ivchenko) AI-20M turboprop engines, each delivering upwards of 4,250 horsepower and fitting four blade propellers. This supplied the IL-38 with a maximum speed between 380 and 400 miles per hour and a range between 4,400 and 6,000 miles for an operational endurance nearing 12 hours of consistent flight time. Service ceiling was listed at approximately 32,800 feet with a rate-of-climb equaling 1,050 feet per minute. Empty weight was in the vicinity of 74,000lbs with a maximum take-off weight near 140,000lbs. Up to 20,000lbs of external and internal stores can be carried aloft, this in the form of depth charges (nuclear and conventional), mines, conventional drop bombs and air-launched torpedoes. This variety of weaponry - coupled with the onboard sensor, tracking and targeting systems- allow the IL-38 to attack various forms of enemy surface and submarine vessels.

Despite the wide-spanning reach of the communism sphere of influence throughout the Cold War, only India became a foreign operator of the IL-38 and received at least five examples between 1975 and 1983 to be stationed from Goa-Dablomin. As in the Soviet/Russian Navy, the IL-38 served the Indian Navy and differed only in the implementation of the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile system. The Indian IL-38s were at one point flown back to Russia for modernization and upgrading of key systems and are since returning to Indian service (as of this writing) under the new designation of IL-38 SD to indicate the applied changes.

Beyond her inherent anti-submarine and maritime patrol roles, the IL-38 airframe has proven suitable for a few notable conversions - namely an ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) model, airborne command post, VIP transport and a dedicated general transport variant.

On September 10th, 2010, it was reported in the American media that an IL-38 flew several close routes near the guided-missile frigate USS Taylor in the Barents Sea, coming as close as 50 yards from the vessel's side. The incident was followed the next day by a visit from a Helix anti-submarine helicopter. Such confrontations have always been common between American naval forces and Russian aircraft since the days of the Cold War. These incidents are usually a show of force or exercises completed by either party and rarely lead to any direct military confrontations.


Up to 20,000lb of internal and external stores including conventional drop bombs, mines, depth charges (nuclear and conventional), anti-ship missiles and torpedoes. Ordnance held within two internal bomb bays and across two optional external hardpoints.

Graphical image of an aircraft anti-ship missile
Graphical image of an aircraft aerial torpedo
Graphical image of an air launched nuclear weapon
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition

Variants / Models

• IL-38 - Base Series Designation
• IL-38 SD - Upgraded Indian IL-38 export models; fitted with improved radar functionality, "Sea Dragon" avionics suiteForward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) and ELINT system.
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