The Ilyushin IL-76 heavy transport was debuted in the early 1970s, entered service in the mid-1970s and is still operating today - some 36 years after its inception. At any rate, the IL-76 has proven something of a success story worldwide with an estimated 960 examples delivered. The airframe has also become highly adaptable to the needs of its clients in varying roles. Roles include both military and civilian functions, in carrying military paratroopers or civilian passengers as well as heavy cargo hauling. Other roles have been pressed upon the IL-76 including that of Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), AWACS-type duties, airborne hospital, Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) (IL-76PP), airborne command post (IL-VPK), maritime Search and Rescue (SAR), firefighting, "Zero-G" training for Soviet cosmonauts (IL-76MDK) and aerial refueling.
The Soviet Need
The Ilyushin IL-76 was born out of a Soviet 1967 requirement calling for a heavy cargo hauler capable of carrying loads upwards of 88,000lbs out over 3,000 miles at speed. This aircraft was to serve with both the VTA Soviet military transport service and civilian operator Aeroflot while replacing the prop-driven, heavy cargo Antonov An-12BP. Additionally, the new design would have Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) capabilities in all weather types and inherent qualities to allow for operations from rough or unprepared airstrips. The aircraft would play a large role in servicing the remote, hard-to-reach outlying areas of the Soviet Empire. Ilyushin delivered on their concept - with a lead role played by G. V. Novozhilov - and the first prototype flew on March 25th, 1971.
The aircraft design made use of reverse thrusters and high-lift devices to help in its short-take off and landing requirement. The wings sported triple-slotted trailing edge flaps, near full-span leading edge slats and upper surface spoilers. The undercarriage was designed with rough field operations in mind, totaling twenty low pressure tires across five landing gear legs. Crew accommodations numbered seven personnel to include the pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, communications officer and two cargo handlers. Though comparable to the American C-141 Starlifter in scope, the IL-76 proved dimensionally larger in size and with a greater operating weight at the expense of shorter range and a smaller internal cargo space. The IL-76 entered service in June of 1974 with a VTA development squadron to which NATO assigned it the codename of "Candid-A". Series production was handled by Tashkent Aviation Production Association of Tashkent, Uzbekistan beginning in 1975. During the Cold War, Uzbekistan was a republic of the Soviet Empire.
A civilian conversion model - the IL-76T - was made available and was essentially an unarmed form with extra internal fuel in the bulging center wing structure. The unarmed IL-76TD was the last of the "Candid-A" production models. This particular model is of note in that the wings were strengthened, the avionics were upgraded and the engines were an uprated set of Aviadvigatel D-30KP-2 series engines. The engines maintained their power output even at higher altitudes.
The IL-76M was developed as a military variant and received the NATO designation of "Candid-B". This IL-76 could ferry up to 140 soldiers or 125 paratroopers as needed. The aircraft was protected with a twin-barreled rear stinger tail turret as well as Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) pods along fuselage fairings and flare dispensers. The IL-76M was improved in the IL-76MD, essentially taking into account the improvements as seen in the IL-76TD.
While the Tashkent facility is no longer in operation, the IL-76 still remains a critical component of the Russian air arm in the multiple roles required of it. It has proven a favorite performer of India and China as well, both maintaining military ties to Russia. During the Cold War years, some 10 IL-76s were leaving the factory floor. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this number decreased substantially to only 10 per year.
Despite the original intention to replace the turbo-prop powered An-12, the IL-76 proved that it could only compliment the former in joint operations - similar to the continued American use of the prop-powered C-130 Hercules family. As such, the IL-76 has never fully replaced the adequate and versatile An-12 in service. However, the IL-76 continued its evolution while in operation. Later production models featured improved maximum take-off weights and increased ranges and went on to set over two-dozen flight records for aircraft of this type.
The IL-76MDP was designed as a firefighting Candid, capable of dispensing some 44 tons of fire retarding liquid in two massive cargo hold tanks. These aircraft were fitted with specialized targeting and release instrumentation to assist the crew with accuracy. At the same time, the IL-76MDP could carry up to forty firefighters and "weather changing" launch cartridges when needed.
The IL-76PP is notable in its dedicated role as an ECM aircraft. Developed from the IL-76MD, the IL-76PP was given a longer undercarriage and fitted Landysh avionics equipment. Another IL-76MD development became the dedicated IL-76VPK command post sporting antenna, a ventral radome and various probes.
Beriev took to converting the IL-76 as an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) platform sometime in the 1970s to replace the outgoing Tupolev Tu-126 "Moss". The Tu-126 became Russia's first AEW platform and was nothing more than a conversion of the Tu-114 commercial airliner. The new Beriev aircraft came under the designation of A-50 "Mainstay" and development began as far back as 1969. These aircraft were based on the IL-76MD models and fitted with Liana radar. First flight was achieved on December 19th, 1978, and the type finally entered service in 1984 with 24 examples. The A-50 was made identifiable by its saucer-type radome on a fuselage stem and manned by fifteen crewmembers. This system was inevitably improved in the A-50U appearing in 1995 and quickly replaced the first-run models. U-models sported Vega-M Shmel-II radar with simultaneous tracking of up to fifty targets out to 125 nautical miles. Israeli Aircraft Industries installed an Elta phased non-rotating radar array unit into an A-50I for its Chinese customer in 1999 but pressure from the United States forced a cancellation of this effort. The A-60 was a related airborne laser testbed while the IL-76SKIP/Be-976 proved a surveillance platform to monitoring missile launches and aircraft flight data.
The Ilyushin IL-78 "Midas"
The IL-78 (NATO codename of "Midas") was the converted aerial tanker form of the IL-76 transport with a three-point "hose-and-drogue" delivery system - two under each wing and the third emanating from the tail. Trials occurred in 1977 with a converted IL-76MD and the type finally appeared in service form in 1987 after a lengthy evaluation period -replacing the aged Mya-4 "Bison" tanker series. Fuel was installed throughout the wings and the fuselage. A standard crew of seven operated the aircraft with the rear tail gunner replaced by a rear observer. Applicable ranging radar and formation lights were located along the cargo hold ramp door, visible by any rear-approaching aircraft. The IL-78 "Midas" form is described in detail here.
Ilyushin IL-76 Walk-Around
Externally, the IL-76 embodied many of the elements of Soviet Cold War aircraft design. It was not the prettiest of aircraft to look at, but she had "it" where it counted - utilitarian to the core. The Candid fitted the cockpit flightdeck to the extreme forward end of the fuselage, characterized by its highly glazed cockpit, coupled with its lower framed deck - also heavily glazed (this position for the navigator and dropmaster). The lower deck was located just under the nose cone in a bulbous fixture. Wings were high-mounted across the top of the fuselage and noted by their bulged center portion atop the aircraft. The wings are also noticeably swept aft and clipped at the tips. Engines were positioned under the wings, two engines to a wing, inside of cylindrical nacelles mounted to forward swept pylons. Their positioning along the high wing arrangement insured that the powerplant wash could steer clear of ground activity when the aircraft was unloaded and loaded with cargo or serviced in general. The empennage was dominated by the single large-area vertical tail fin to which a "Tee" style wing arrangement was applied. The horizontal planes were mounted at the extreme top of the vertical tail, completing the IL-76's unique look. The undercarriage was of a semi-conventional layout, with a single nose landing gear leg fitted under the front of the fuselage and a collection of four main landing gear legs fitted to a bulbous underfuselage emplacement. The nose landing gear sported four tires fitted as two pairs while the four main landing gears each sport larger sets of tires, four to a leg, also fitted as pairs. Standard personnel access doors were positioned along the forward fuselage sides, ahead of the wing assemblies and engines.
The Cargo Hold
The fuselage tapered off to a raised rear endpoint just under and slightly passed the tail fin base (this also being the location of the aft tail turret). The cargo bay was accessed via this raised rear underside via two vertical doors hinged along the outside edges and a lowered ramp. The hold was designed to be completely pressurized (suitable for paratrooper actions) and fitted two overhead winches for help in loading and unloading cargo. The hold could be set to accept three different premade "modules" for the job at hand - air ambulance, passenger and cargo. These modules ensured some level of expediency when conversions were required within time constraints. The floor was constructed of titanium and featured optional-use fold-down conveyors. The loading ramp was also designed to double as a lift with a 66,150lb load capability. All of these details, when taken as a whole, truly showed off the IL-76s strengths in an operational environment.
The Ilyushin IL-76D
When taking the basic IL-76D production model as our example, the aircraft was fitted with four Aviadvigatel (Soloviev) brand D-30KP-series turbofan engines, each rated at 26,500lbs of thrust output. Empty weight was listed at 159,000lb while a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 346,000lb was possible. Top speed was approximately 560 miles per hour with a reported range of 3,650 kilometers. The service ceiling capped out at 42,700 feet. Wingspan was 165 feet, 8 inches with a fuselage length of 152 feet, 10 inches. Height came in at 48 feet, 5 inches. Crew capacity could number between 5 and 7 personnel depending on the sortie type.
Though the IL-76 remains a transport-minded airframe at heart, militarized versions have limited weapons capability. More standard is the use of an optional radar-directed manned turret fitted to the base of the tail for self-defense. This position mounts 2 x 23mm GSh-23L cannons. Other forms have utilized optional pylons (two to a wing) in support of bomb ordnance as needed. These fittings are situated to each wing outboard of the engines.
The IL-76 in Afghanistan
The IL-76 performed its vital role in the transportation of troops, supplies and weapons during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Nearly 15,000 flights were made into and out of the region. Despite the ultimate Soviet military loss in the conflict and the subsequent withdrawal of its forces in the region, the Candid proved her worth in numerous ways and once again displayed the value of logistics planning and execution.
The IL-76 has seen extensive use throughout the world in military and civilian guises as needed by customer. Most notably is its use (and former use) in the Soviet Union/Russia as well as in the United States (civilian), China, India, the Middle East (including Iraq and Iran) and in parts of Africa. The casual observer will note its heavy use among Soviet-allied nations as well as former Soviet states. North Korea, Libya and Cuba all operate different numbers of IL-76s in some capacity. Ukraine operates both the civilian and military versions of the Candid.
A pair of Russian IL-76s landed in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 8th, 2005, to support humanitarian aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina. This marked the first such instance that a Russian-operated aircraft has landed on American soil in this capacity. An Indian-operated IL-76 also contributed aid to the region some five days later.
A modernized form of the IL-76 Candid - the IL-76MF-90A (also recognized as the IL-476) - began assessment trials for the Russian Air Force on March 18th, 2013 (achieving first flight on September 22nd, 2012). The original D-40KP2 series turbofans have been replaced in favor of the PS-90A-76 series in an attempt to make the IL-76 airframe more compatible with shorter runway distances.
Algeria; Angola; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Belarus; Burkina Faso; Central African Republic; Cambodia; China; Congo-Brazzaville; Cuba; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Equatorial Guinea; Hungary; India; Iran; Iraq; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Laos; Latvia; Libya; Mali; Moldova; North Korea; Sao Tome and Principe; Serbia; Sierra Leone; Soviet Union; Sudan; Syria; Turkmenistan; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; Uzbekistan; Yemen; Zimbabwe; United States
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Special-Mission: Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
Specially-equipped platform providing over-battlefield Command and Control (C2) capability for allied aerial elements.
✓Special-Mission: Electronic Warfare (EW)
Equipped to actively deny adversaries the ElectroMagnetic (EM) spectrum and protect said spectrum for allied forces.
✓Aerial Refueling (Tanker)
Dedicated or converted airframe used to deliver fuel to awaiting allied aircraft.
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.
Used in roles serving the commercial aviation market, ferrying both passengers and goods over range.
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
152.9 ft (46.59 m)
165.7 ft (50.50 m)
48.4 ft (14.76 m)
202,825 lb (92,000 kg)
418,878 lb (190,000 kg)
+216,053 lb (+98,000 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Ilyushin IL-76D (Candid) production variant)
4 x Soloviev D-30KP turbofan engines developing 26,500 lb of thrust each.
2 x 23mm twin barrel GSh-23L cannons in tail.
OPTIONAL (some models):
500kg of bombs along four underwing hardpoints.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 4
Izdeliye-176 - Prototype for the IL-76PP production model.
Izdeliye-576 - Prototype
Izdeliye-676 - Prototype
Izdeliye-776 - Prototype
Izdeliye-976SKIP / Beriev Be-976 - Missile and Fighter Tracking Variant.
Izdeliye-1176 - ELectronic INTelligence (ELINT) platform.
IL-76-Tu160 - Single Example constructed for T-160 modification program.
IL-76D - Paratrooper Transport
IL-76K - Zero-G Trainer Variant; used for the Russian space program.
IL-76MDK - Initial cosmonaut Zero-G trainer conversion.
IL-76LL - Powerplant Testbed for Gromov Flight Research Institute.
IL-76M (Candid-B) - Militarized Transport
IL-76MD (Candid-B) - Improved Militarized Transport.
IL-76MD (Candid-B) (Skal'pel-MT) - Airborne Hospital.
IL-76M (Candid-B) - Sans Military Equipment
IL-76MD (Candid-B) - Sans Military Equipment
IL-76MD-90 (Candid-B) - Based on the IL-76MD; fitted with quieter Aviadvigatel PS-90 series engines.
IL-76MF (Candid-B) - "Stretched" IL-76 with elongated fuselage; PS-90 series powerplants; not in quantitative production; transport variant.
IL-76MF-90A - Developmental modernized short-take off variant of the IL-76MF; fitted with PS-90A-76 engines; undergoing assessment trials as of 2013.
IL-76PP - Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) Platform.
IL-76MD PS - Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) Platform.
IL-76T - Military platform in civilian guise.
IL-76TD - Military platform in civilian guise.
IL-78 - Aerial Refueling Tanker
IL-78M - Improved Aerial Refueling Tanker
IL-82 - Airborne Command Post Platform
IL-76TD-90 - Fitted with Perm PS-90 engines
IL-76MD-90 - Fitted with Perm PS-90 engines
IL-76MDP - Firefighting Platform
IL-76PSD - Search and Rescue Platform based on the IL-76MF.
IL-96 - Proposed Passenger/Cargo transport.
IL-150 - Proposed Beriev A-50 fitted with Perm PS-90 engines.
IL-76MGA - Commercial Cargo Hauler
IL-76MD - Commercial Variant; sans military equipment.
IL-76TD - Commercial Variant; sans military equipment.
IL-76P - Firefighting Platform
IL-76TP - Firefighting Platform
IL-76TDP - Firefighting Platform
IL-76MDP - Firefighting Platform
IL-76T (Candid-A) - Civilian Cargo Hauler
IL-76TD (Candid-A) - Civilian IL-76MD
IL-76TD-90VD (Candid-A) - Based on the IL-76TD; fitted with Aviadvigatel PS-90 series engines; updated cockpit.
IL-76TD-S (Candid-A) - Civilian Airborne Hospital
IL-76TF (Candid-A) - Civilian Transport; elongated fuselage; fitted with Aviadvigatel PS-90 series engines; based on the IL-76MF; never produced.
IL-76 "Phalcon" - AWACS variant in use by the Indian Air Force; fitted with Aviadvigatel PS-90 engines.
IL-76MD - Iraqi Aerial Refueling Tanker
Beriev A-50 - Airborne Early Warning Aircraft
Beriev A-50U - Improved AEW Platform
Beriev A-50M - Airborne Early Warning Aircraft
Beriev A-50I - Airborne Early Warning Aircraft
Beriev A-50E - Airborne Early Warning Aircraft
Beriev A-60 - Weapons Testbed
KJ-2000 - AWACS variant in use by the Chinese Air Force; fitted with AESA radar.
Baghdad-1 - Failed Iraqi Conversion Model; radar fitted in cargo hold area; fitted with Thomson-CSF radar.
Baghdad-2 - Iraqi Conversion Model; fitted with Thomson-CSF Tiger G surveillance radar.
Adnan-1 - AEW&C rotodome; large strakes; three total converions with one destroyed on the ground in Gulf War.
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