The Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft program has recently received a new shot in the arm that can significantly prolong the service life of this model, which enjoys steady demand from both civil and military operators in Russia and abroad. On September 22, the first modernized Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A military heavy-lifter, developed under the Il-476 program, made its 40-minute maiden flight from the factory strip of Aviastar-SP, the Ulyanovsk-based subsidiary of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). This prototype (tail number RA-78650) was rolled out on July 5; the center wingbox and outer wing of another prototype are currently undergoing static and endurance tests at TsAGI Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute in Zhukovsky outside Moscow.
The start of the Il-76MD-90A flight trials was immediately backed by a launch order from the Russian military. On October 4, the Russian Defense Ministry inked the contract for the purchase of 39 such aircraft; the deal is valued at 140 bln rubles (about $4.5 bln). According to UAC, deliveries should start in 2014 and continue until 2018. Aviastar-SP has already reportedly started to assemble two more Il-76MD-90A prototypes to join the flight trials in 2013. The Defense Ministry is likely to expand its order as the current defense procurement plans call for the purchase of about 100 aircraft of this type.
The four-engine Il-76MD-90A is a heavily modernized version of the Il-76MD baseline which has been operated by the Russian Air Force for more than 20 years and used to be built at the Tashkent, Uzbekistan-based TAPO plant. The new modification features an improved wing and reinforced landing gear to accommodate the increased MTOW (210 tons, against the baseline’s 190 tons). Maximum payload has been increased from 48 to 60 tons. The original 12-ton thrust D-30KP2 turbofans have been replaced with the more powerful PS-90A-76 engines each with a thrust of 16 tons. The designers say the new powerplant improves the aircraft’s fuel efficiency from 232 to 187 grams per ton-km and improves its take-off performance. The aircraft’s range with 48 tons of payload has been increased from 3,800 to 5,300 km, and the maximum-payload range is 4,000 km. The Il-76MD-90A’s new Kupol-3 digital avionics suite includes satellite navigation and a glass cockpit. According to the designers, it will allow for reducing the crew headcount from the current five people to three.
Although the Il-76MD-90A was developed specifically for the Russian Air Force, the launch of its production in Russia opens up opportunities on the commercial market as well. As of late 2011, 43 Il-76s were in operation with Russian civilian carriers. Russia’s largest cargo operator Volga-Dnepr Airlines currently uses several examples of the Il-76TD-90VD modification for charter freight services. This version is close in technical parameters to the Il-76MD-90A but was built at TAPO, which has since stop production of the type.
Earlier, Ilyushin announced that a commercial version of the improved aircraft could be ready by 2015. It will be crucial for potential commercial clients that the modernized freighter comply with the existing and future requirements of ICAO and Eurocontrol and can be operated all over the world.
The new phase of the Il-76 program further expands the aircraft’s export opportunities. In 2005, China contracted Russia for the purchase of 34 Il-76MDs and four Il-78 aerial tankers. That order was never carried through because the Tashkent facility, which was at that time outside Russia’s control, could not build the aircraft. Now China and Russia could renegotiate the deal. The Il-76 was also used as the platform for the Beriev A-50EI airborne early warning and control aircraft ordered by the Indian Air Force. Three such aircraft, fitted with Israeli-made radars were delivered to India in 2009 and 2010. Two examples of the Il-76MF freighter, which is a stretched version powered by Aviadvigatel PS-90A-76 engines, were handed over to Jordan International Air Cargo company in 2011.
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