Ilyushin's IL-76. Source: Press Photo
The Ilyushin IL-76 first took to the skies in 1971, and since then the aircraft is regularly used in Russian aviation. Now, however, the requirements for aircraft of this class have changed somewhat (mainly involving more rigorously matching industry standards), and new equipment and systems have been developed. As a result, the decision was made to launch a series of highly modernized machines. The program to create a new transporter was given the code name Project 476, and the military transport aircraft was designated the Il-76MD-90A.
First customer: the military
Engineers have finalized the airframe, making a number of significant changes in the structure. The aircraft was modified with a new wing and landing gear, and lengthy torsion boxes were used in the wing panels to reduce its weight to 2.7 tons.
The aircraft was also equipped with a new flight control and navigation system and automatic control system, and instrumentation is arranged inside a glass cockpit. All the necessary information for pilots is shown on an LCD screen with an integrated system for electronic display and signaling. The flight navigator’s workplace is equipped with a multifunction display, providing all the necessary navigational information. The aircraft has an open architecture that allows for the inclusion of both Russian and foreign equipment into its structure. The aircraft also has new onboard communications and defense systems.
The most important innovation was the modern PS-90A-76 engines. Set to replace the old D-30KP, they have a greater draft (14500 kgf takeoff (cruising mode)), and have an increased fuel economy of 12-15 percent, extending the range the aircraft can fly with a load of 60 tons to 5000 km. Also, the new engines have reduced levels of noise and emissions, giving the Il-476 the utility to be used both on domestic and international routes.
The launch customer for the upgraded aircraft was the Russian Defence Ministry, which signed a contract with the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) on October 4, 2012 for the delivery of 39 military transport Il-76MD-90A aircraft from 2014-2020. The construction of the aircraft has been assigned to the Aviastar-SP plant, located in Ulyanovsk.
Factory flight tests for the Il-76MD-90A were completed on October 31, 2014. “Factory flight tests have shown that it is a reliable aircraft,” said test pilot Oleg Ganovich. “It is economical and comfortable. You can feel the rapid acceleration of the aircraft during the takeoff run thanks to the new engine, good braking performance in reverse after landing, and greater climbing capability.”
“They are in full swing on the final assembly and systems integration for the third production aircraft,” Andrey Fomin, Editor-in-Chief of Vzlet aerospace magazine said. “The manufacturing of parts and components for the next ten aircraft and the first IL-78M-90A tanker aircraft are underway.”
The Russian Il-76MD-90A versus the Chinese Y-20
In the context of an aging fleet of IL-76 and the actual closing of the An-70 program, the program to create the Il-76MD-90A has become more important to the Russian aircraft industry in the medium and even long term.
In August 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Russia-24 TV that UAC received an order for the construction of more than one hundred different versions of the upgraded aircraft. No less than 50 aircraft are ready to be purchased by the Defence Ministry, and there is a tentative agreement with the Ministry of Emergency Situations for the purchase of six aircraft. Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service aviators are also prepared to buy the Il-76MD-90A, as well as other operators.
There is tremendous potential for the new aircraft in the international market, given that military and civilian aircraft of the IL-76 family are currently operating in more than 30 countries. Naturally, these countries will be willing to replace or upgrade their outdated models according to the new standard. In particular, interest in the Il-76MD-90A has been demonstrated in Southeast and Southern Asia.
On the other hand, the Chinese market for Russian aircraft is probably already lost, since the Chinese have developed the new Y-20 military transport plane. The plane is the largest and the first in this class, and was developed by the Chinese themselves. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 220 tons and is equipped with Russian D-30KP-2 engines (there are plans to replace them with Chinese-made engines). In addition, the Y-20 is capable of transporting personnel, cargo and 60-66 tons total of various combat equipment, including the latest Type-99A tanks, weighing 58 tons each.
According to experts, the Chinese Y-20 has become a kind of symbiosis of the most successful technical solutions embodied in such iconic aircraft as the Russian IL-76, the Russian-Ukrainian An-70, the American C-17, and the European A-400M. It is possible that in the future the Y-20 will be able to compete with IL-76MD-90A aircraft in the international market.
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