The Il-76 is a four-engined multi-purpose military airliner that first entered service with the Russian military in 1974 to replace the AN-12 and to meet the Russian military’s requirement for an aircraft that can carry at least 40 tons of freight over a range of at least 3,100 miles in less than 6 hours, be operable from unprepared landing strips, and be able to operate in any weather conditions. The Il-76 has a payload of 50 tons, a length of 152 ft, a wingspan of 165 ft, and a maximum speed of 560 mph. The Il-76 has proven to be a very capable aircraft and is used by over 38 countries around the world, including the US, in various roles ranging from firefighting, to serving as an aerial tanker, to serving as an airliner. Russia has many variants of the Il-76 in service, and I will describe the most notable variants here.
-The Il-76D is used by the Russian VDV for transporting paratroopers. It is equipped with a tail turret for self defense.
-The Il-76M is a military transport used by Russia’s air-force to transport military cargo.
-The Il-76MD (pictured in the first three photos) is an upgraded Il-76M that can carry paratroopers, transport military equipment (including medium tanks), and can serve as a military ambulance. Having entered service in 1984, the Il-76MD has a larger airframe than the Il-76M, which allows it to carry more fuel and increase its range by 40%. The Il-76 is equipped with countermeasures for anti-aircraft missiles (including chaff dispensers), and is armed with a dual 23 mm automatic cannon. It can also be armed with up to four 250 kg bombs.
-The A-50 (pictured in the second row of photos) is currently Russia’s sole AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft. The A-50 entered service in 1984 to replace the aging Tu-126 AWACS. The A-50 is capable of controlling a maximum of 10 fighters for both air-to-ground and air-to-air attack missions. It has an endurance of 4 hours and can be refueled in mid-air by Il-78 tankers. The A-50 is equipped with the Vega-M radar, which can simultaneously track up to 50 targets at a time within a 230 km radius. The A-50 can track larger targets, such as warships, at ranges exceeding 400 km. The A-50’s are currently being upgraded to the A-50U status, which features a superior radar and new avionics.
-The Il-78M (7th photo) is an aerial tanker which can carry up to 105,720 kg of fuel. The Il-78M is capable of refueling up to 3 aircraft simultaneously in the air, or up to 4 while based on the ground. The Il-78M entered service in 1987.
The A-60 (8th photo) is an airborne laser based on a heavily modified version of the Il-76MD and first flew in 1981. The project was frozen for over 15 years, but has recently been revived, and work on the A-60 continues. There are currently two known prototypes in service. The program is still classified, and therefore, there is little information available about it.
The Il-476 (9th photo) is based on the Il-76, but almost every part of it has been deeply modernized. The Il-476 has new engines, an improved fuel efficiency system (by 15%), new avionics, a digital flight control system, new wings, and more. The Il-476 has a maximum take-off weight of 210 tons (compared to 190 for the Il-76). The Russian MOD plans to acquire 100 Il-476’s by 2020, and the plane is due to replace the Il-76. A new family of aircraft will be created around it including a transport, a tanker, and an AWACS aircraft (A-100), which are due to replace the Il-76, Il-78, and A-50, respectively.