Russia’s Revived Il-76 Airlifter Now in Flight Test

 - March 22, 2013, 1:20 PM
The prototype Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A airlifter conducts a test flight. (Photo: Ilyushin)

Ilyushin and the Russian defense ministry have begun a joint flight-test and certification program for the Il-76MD-90A airlifter. The first flight in the program took place on March 18 at the Gromov Flight Test and Research Institute, in Zhukovsky, using the prototype (RA-78650) that first flew from the Aviastar manufacturing facility in Ulyanovsk in September last year.

Speaking to the media earlier this month, Ilyushin general director Victor Livanov said that the advent of the Il-76MD90A “means restoration of our in-country skills to design and manufacture airlifters. This was something we lost after the Soviet Union collapsed, since the Il-76 was in production in Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Antonov is now a Ukrainian company, and none of its designs is in series production right now. We recommended restarting production at Aviatar with a redeveloped Il-76 in 2006, and the Russian government agreed.” Livanov added that in 2006 Aviastar had only 10 design computers, and the Ilyushin design house only a few more. In addition to acquiring and mastering the computer-aided design technologies, Aviastar has restored 500 machine tools and modernized them with new reprogrammable units during the Il-76MD90A effort.

Redevelopment of the Il-76 began in earnest in 2008, with simultaneous digitizing of the old drawings. The new wing was modeled on that of the Il-96 and now features long structural members, lower weight and longer lifetime. “About 70 percent of the original onboard systems were replaced by new ones,” Livanov said, adding that only the hydraulics remain largely unchanged. Almost all vendor items for the Il-76 were out of production and have been replaced with newer items now available in the market. The Il-76MD90A received new avionics and a digital flight-control system.

Livanov said that Aviastar is on track to hand over the first pair of production aircraft to the Russian air force next year. A contract for 39 Il-76MD90As worth Rouble 139 billion was placed in October last year. The Russian air force operates nearly one hundred Il-76s as airlifters, plus another 50 in various special-mission roles. “We will need to replace them all at some point; some will be withdrawn by 2020, while the remaining ones will undergo a 15- to 20-year life extension,” Livanov said. “There is rule in aviation. If the airframe is good, make the longest possible use of it, and you can change engine and systems,” he added.

The Il-76MD90A is capable of carrying and airdropping the heavy BDM-4 infantry fighting vehicle, a newly developed replacement for the BMD-3 that now equips Russian paratrooper units.