The Ilyushin Il-76 (NATO reporting name: Candid) is a multi-purpose four-engine turbofan strategic airlifter designed by the Soviet Union’s Ilyushin design bureau. It was first planned as a commercial freighter in 1967, as a replacement for the Antonov An-12. It was designed to deliver heavy machinery to remote, poorly served areas. Military versions of the Il-76 have been widely used in Europe, Asia and Africa, including use as an aerial refueling tanker or command center.
The Il-76 has seen extensive service as a commercial freighter for ramp-delivered cargo, especially for outsized or heavy items unable to be otherwise carried. It has also been used as an emergency response transport for civilian evacuations as well as for humanitarian aid and disaster relief around the world. Because of its ability to operate from unpaved runways, it has been useful in undeveloped areas. Specialized models have also been produced for aerial firefighting and zero-G training.
The aircraft was first conceived by Ilyushin in 1967 to meet a requirement for a freighter able to carry a payload of 40 tons (88,000 lb) over a range of 5,000 km (2,700 nmi; 3,100 mi) in less than six hours, able to operate from short and unprepared airstrips, and capable of coping with the worst weather conditions likely to be experienced in Siberia and the Soviet Union’s Arctic regions. It was intended to replace the An-12. Another intended version was a double-decked 250-passenger airliner but that project was cancelled. The Il-76 first flew on March 1971.
Production of Il-76s was allocated to the Tashkent Aviation Production Association in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then a republic of the Soviet Union. Some 860 of the basic transport variants were manufactured. In the 1990s, modernized variants also equipped with Soloviev D-30 turbofan engines, were developed (MF, TF), with a cargo compartment 20 m long by 3.4 m wide by 3.4 m tall; these larger variants were not produced in significant quantity due to the financial difficulties being experienced by the Russian Air Force, which was the primary operator of the type. The prototype of the Il-76MF, conducted its first flight on 1 August 1995. All production operations ceased during the late 1990s.
From 2004 onwards, a number of aircraft in commercial service were modernized to the Il-76TD-90VD version; this involved the adoption of the newly developed PS-90 engine to comply with European noise limitations. In 2005, the Peoples Republic of China placed an order for 34 new Il-76MDs and four Il-78 tankers. In June 2013, Russian military export agency Rosoboronexport announced an order by China for 12 Il-76MD aircraft.
The Il-76 has also been modified into an airborne refuelling tanker, designated the Il-78, around 50 aircraft having been produced. A variant of the Il-76 also serves as a firefighting waterbomber. Its airframe was used as a base for the Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay’ AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) aircraft; around 25 aircraft were made. Another application for the type was found in Antarctic support flights and for conducting simulated weightlessness training for cosmonauts. Beriev and NPO Almaz also developed an airborne laser flying laboratory designated A-60, of which two were built, much of this project’s details remaining classified.
It was announced in 2010 that the production of a modernized Il-76, the Il-76MD-90A (also known as project Il-476 during the design stage), would begin; a proposed new production line would be located in Aviastar’s facility in Ulyanovsk, Russia, and be operated in cooperation with the Tashkent works. At that point, the construction of two Il-76MD-90A prototypes had begun at the Ulyanovsk facility. The 1st serial production Il-76MD-90A was rolled out at Aviastar’s Ulyanovsk plant on 16 June 2014. On 29 April 2015, it was reported that the Russian Air Force received the first Il-76MD-90A built at the Ulyanovsk plant “Aviastar-SP” from the 2012 contract for 39 aircraft.
First aircraft were delivered to the Soviet Air Force in June 1974. Next it became the main Soviet strategic transport aircraft. From 1976 it was operated by Aeroflot.
Between 1979 and 1991, the Soviet Air Force Il-76s made 14,700 flights into Afghanistan, transporting 786,200 servicemen, and 315,800 tons of freight. The Il-76 carried 89% of Soviet troops and 74% of the freight that was airlifted. As Afghan rebels were unable to shoot down high-flying Il-76s, their tactics were to try and damage it on takeoff or landing. Il-76s were often hit by shoulder-launched Stinger and Strela heat-seeking missiles and large-calibre machine gun fire, but because the strong airframes were able to take substantial damage and still remain operational, the aircraft had a remarkably low attrition rate during this period of conflict. Building on that experience, the bulk of the Canadian Forces equipment into Afghanistan was flown in using civilian Il-76. In 2006, the Russian Air Force had about 200 Il-76s. Civilian users in Russia have 108.
On August 3, 1995, a Il-76 piloted by a Russian crew was forced down by a Taliban fighter plane sparking the Airstan incident.
In 2004, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Il-76 carried out a flight mission in Afghanistan, and later in 2011, PLAAF Il-76s were sent to Libya to evacuate Chinese citizens. The two missions were reported first steps of PLAAF developing long-range transportation capacity.
On 23 March 2007, a Transaviaexport Il-76 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile while taking off from Mogadishu, Somalia. Everybody on board, seven crew and four passengers, were killed.
Syrian Air Force Il-76s, operating as civil Syrianair aircraft have been reportedly used to ship weapons, money and other cargo from Russia and Iran to Syria, according to a defected Syrian military pilot. Since the start of the war, in April 2011 (and up to July 2012), around 20 military flights have been conducted to and from Tehran, via Iraqi airspace. Further information exposes that since around 2012, Syrian Il-76s have regularly flown to Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport to fetch shipments of Syrian banknotes that have been useful to Bashar al-Assad’s government to survive western sanctions.
On 14 June 2014, a Ukrainian Air Force Il-76 was shot down by ground fire from pro-Russian separatists while on approach to landing at Lugansk, resulting in the deaths of 40 soldiers and nine crew members on board.
On 30 January 2017, IL-76 firebomber of Russian EMERCOM agency was deployed to Chile to assist the firefighters. This assignment took 39 days.
Prototypes and developmental variants
- Il-76TD-90 / Il-76MD-90
- Engine upgrades to Perm PS-90s.
- Il-76 firebomber
- Firefighting aircraft to drop exploding capsules filled with fire retardant.
- SAR version of Il-76MF
- Early development of convertible passenger/cargo aircraft, (project only, designation re-used later)
- proposed Beriev A-50 with Perm PS-90 engines.
- Beriev A-60
- Airborne laser weapon testbed. (Il-76 version 1A)
Special purpose / research variants
- prototype Il-76PP.
- Telemetry and communications relay aircraft, for use during trial programmes (prototype).
- Telemetry and communications relay aircraft, for use during trial programmes (prototype).
- Izdeliye-976 (“SKIP”) – (СКИП – Самолетный Контрольно-Измерительный Пункт, Airborne Check-Measure-and-Control Center)
- Il-76/A-50 based Range Control and Missile tracking platform. Initially built to support Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile tests.
- Special mission aircraft for unknown duties.
- ELINT electronic intelligence aircraft, or Il-76-11
- Il-76-Tu160 tailplane transporter
- One-off temporary conversion to support Tu-160 emergency modification programme.
- (‘D’ for “Desantnyi”, Десантный – “Paratrooper transport”) has a gun turret in the tail for defensive purposes.
- Zero-g cosmonaut trainer (dlya podgotovki kosmonavtov), for Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center.
- Engine testbed, (ooniversahl’naya letayuschchaya laboratoriya).
- Military transport version, (modifitseerovannyy – modified).
- Improved military transport version, (modifitseerovannyy Dahl’ny – modified, long-range).
- Il-76MD Skal’pel-MT
- – Mobile Hospital
- Il-76M / Il-76MD
- Built without military equipment but designated as Ms and MDs (Gordon – ‘Falsies’)
- An Il-76MD with quieter and more economical Aviadvigatel PS-90 high-bypass turbofan engines.
- Stretched military version with a 6.6 m longer fuselage, PS-90 engines, maximum takeoff weight of 210 tonnes and a lift capability of 60 tonnes. First flew in 1995, not built in series so far, just built for Jordan.
- ECM aircraft, major problems with ECM equipment on the Izdeliye-176 only.
- modernized Il-76MD for the Russian Air Force.
- An updated version with a new glass cockpit, updated avionics, new internal wing structure and Aviadvigatel PS-90 engines. It was also known as Il-476 while in development.
- Built as military aircraft but given civilian designations. (Gordon – ‘Falsie’)
- Ilyushin Il-78 / Il-78M
- Aerial refuelling tanker.
- Il-78 MKI
- A customized version of the Il-78 developed for the Indian Air Force.
- Airborne Command Post/communications relay aircraft, (alternative designation – Il-76VKP-‘version65S’).
- Maritime Search and Rescue aircraft, (alternative designation – Il-76PS-poiskovo-spasahtel’nyy), not produced.
- Beriev A-50/Beriev A-50M/Beriev A-50I/Beriev A-50E
- – Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft. Beriev given control over the program.
- Beriev A-100
- An AEW&C version of the Il-76MD-90A.
- Initial Commercial freighter. (two prototypes and 12 production) equipped with Soloviev D-30 Turbofan engines.
- Il-76MD to Il-76TD conversions
- Complete removal of Military equipment, identified by crude cover over OBIGGS inlet in Starboard Sponson.
- Il-76P / Il-76TP / Il-76TDP / Il-76MDP
- Firefighting aircraft. The Il-76 waterbomber is a VAP-2 1.5 hour install/removal tanking kit conversion. The Il-76 can carry up to 13,000 U.S. gallons (49,000 liters) of water; 3.5 times the capacity of the C-130 Hercules. Since this kit can be installed on any Il-76, the designation Il-76TP, Il-76TDP are also used when those versions of the Il-76 are converted into waterbombers. The Il-76P was first unveiled in 1990.
- (‘T’ for Transport, Транспортный) unarmed civil cargo transport version. NATO code-name “Candid-A”. It first flew on November 4, 1978.
- The civil equivalent of the Il-76MD, first flew in 1982, equipped with Soloviev D-30 Turbofan engines.
- An Il-76TD with Aviadvigatel PS-90 engines and a partial glass cockpit. It was developed specially for Volga-Dnepr cargo company, which operates four aircraft as of 2012.
- Civilian mobile Hospital, similar to Il-76MD Skal’pel-MT.
- Civil transport stretched version with Aviadvigatel PS-90 engines. It is the civil version of the Il-76MF (none produced).
- Beriev A-50E/I
- Iraqi Air Force tanker conversions.
- Domestic Chinese airborne early warning and control conversion of Il-76, developed after A-50I was cancelled and currently in service with the armed forces of China.
- CFTE engine testbed
- The China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) currently operates a flying testbed converted from a Russian-made Il-76MD jet transport aircraft to serve as a flying testbed for future engine development programmes. The first engine to be tested on the aircraft is the WS-10A “Taihang” turbofan, currently being developed as the powerplant for China’s indigenous J-10 and J-11 fighter aircraft. Il-76MD #76456, acquired by the AVIC 1 from Russia in the 1990s, is currently based at CFTE’s flight test facility at Yanliang, Shaanxi Province.
- Iraqi development with a radar mounted in the cargo hold, used in the Iran-Iraq war.
- Iraqi development (with French assistance) with fibreglass-reinforced plastic radome over the antenna of the Thomson-CSF Tiger G surveillance radar with a maximum detection range of 350 km (189 nmi, 217.5 mi). One was destroyed on the ground during the 1991 Persian Gulf War; two others were flown to Iran where they remained. At least one went into service with the IRIAF. One aircraft crashed following a midair collision with a HESA Saeqeh fighter, during the annual, Iranian military parade in Teheran. It can be distinguished from the Beriev A-50 by having the Il-76 navigator windows in the nose, which the A-50 does not.