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Il-76MD-90A: first production-standard airlifter got airborne

Il-76MD-90A3 October 2014 saw the maiden flight of the first production-standard Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A (c/n 01-03) that took off from the factory airfield of the Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar-SP close corporation, a subsidiary of the United Aircraft Corporation. An Ilyushin JSC crew led by Honoured Test Pilot Vladimir Irinarkhov flew the airlifter. The first flight, which lasted 4 h 20 min, was dedicated to testing the aircraft, its powerplant and the onboard systems in most of their operating modes. After the factory trials have been completed, the Il-76MD-90A c/n 01-03 will have been delivered to Beriev company in Taganrog before year-end, where it will become the platform for the development of an advanced airborne early warning and control aircraft.

The Russian government released a directive on the development and productionising of the upgraded Il-76 in Ulyanovsk (Programme 476) on 20 December 2006. The first two Il-76MD-90As - the endurance test example (c/n 01-01) and the flying prototype (c/n 01-02) - were laid down by Aviastar in 2009. A set of assemblies of the endurance test prototype was brought to Zhukovsky, Moscow Region, in autumn 2011 for static tests in TsAGI, and a flying prototype (reg. number 78650) commenced its trials a year later. It conducted its maiden flight in Ulyanovsk on 22 September 2012, launched its tests in Zhukovsky in late January 2013, completed there the first phase of its official test programme that kicked off in July 2013 (38 flights) and was returned to the manufacturer on 4 December 2013 for debugging based on the tests and the customer's requirements specified more accurately. The new requirements called for adnavced communications gear and a defence aids suite in the first place.

In the course of the development tests and the first phase of the official tests, the Il-76MD-90A (c/n 01-02) logged around 60 flights, with the Kupol-III-76M(A) flight navigation suite and its subsystems tested alongside with the fuel and automatic control systems and radio communications equipment. The maximum speed structural endurance modes and limit g-load were tested, flights with the 210-tonne maximum takeoff weight and 170-tonne maximum landing weight were performed and the missed approach procedure with simulated failure of one engine and two engines was tested. Based on the results produced by the first stage of the official trials, a preliminary report was released, giving the nod to the manufacture of the Il-76MD-90A low-rate initial production (batch by Aviastar plant.

In the near future, the Il-76MD-90A (c/n 01-02) shall commence the second phase of its official tests, during which its sophisticated communications and defence aids suites are to be tested, as are airdrops of combat gear and cargo.

The Russian Defence Ministry is the launch customer for the Il-76MD-90A. On 4 October 2012, it awarded a contract for 39 aircraft with the delivery from 2014 throughout 2020. According to the 2013-25 Aircraft Industry Development Federal Programme at the website of the Russian government, Aviastar-SP is to make a total of 90 aircraft of the type prior to 2020, including 31 Il-78M-90A air tankers and 18 aircraft designed for subsequent conversion to various dedicated applications by Beriev company, with about 45 more to be built in the subsequent five years. In addition, about 15 aircraft in the Il-76TD-90A commercial freighter version are supposed to be manufactured for domestic commercial users and about 40 for foreign ones before 2025. Thus, the Industry and Trade Ministry estimates the overall output under Programme 476 prior to 2025 at 190 aircraft.

The first three LRIP planes were laid down by Aviastar-SP under a contract with UAC - Transport Aircraft in 2010. The first of them, c/n 01-03, was rolled out from the assembly shop on 17 June 2014 and taken to the Spektr-Avia company in Ulyanovsk for painting, during which it was given the proper name Ulyanovsk and reg. number 78651 and then submitted for ground tests and preparations for its first flight. The aircraft made its public debut in mid-August during MATF 2014 International Aviation Transport Forum in Ulyanovsk. A contract on the delivery of the aircraft for its subsequent conversion to a special aircraft was signed by Beriev company at the forum on 15 August 2014. According to the officially published 2013 annual reports by Ilyushin JSC and UAC - Transport Aircraft, the Il-76MD-90A c/n 01-03 will serve a platform for the first example of the advanced A-100 AEW&C aircraft being developed in Taganrog.

According to Ilyushin, after the 3 October maiden flight, the first production-standard Il-76MD-90A will perform five more test sorties in Ulyanovsk, controlled by Ilyushin and Aviastar-SP aircrews, and then another flight with a military crew at the controls. With these missions flown, the aircraft will be delivered to the customer and ferried to Taganrog.

The second production-standard Il-76MD-90A, c/n 01-04, is to follow the first one out of the assembly shop before year-end. The final assembly and systems installation of the third production-standard aircraft (c/n 01-05) are in full swing. Production of parts and units for the ten subsequent aircraft and first Il-78M-90A tanker plane is under way.

Nikolai Talikov, chief of the design bureau and deputy Director General / deputy Designer General, Ilyushin JSC, told Take-off that the Il-78M-90A tanker plane is heavily commonised with the Il-76MD-90A, particularly in terms of the wing design. However, its takeoff weight grew up from 210 t to 220 t, which enables it to haul more fuel and refuel more aircraft in flight compared with the Il-78 and Il-78M air tankers used to be built in Tashkent. "In addition, while the Il-78M was a pure tanker aircraft, the advanced Il-78M-90A is being developed as a convertible variant capable of operating as an ordinary transport once it has been stripped of its fuselage fuel cells, if need be, for it will retain the cargo ramp", says Nikolai Talikov. "The first Il-78M-90A is set to kick off its tests in late 2015. A contract with the Defence Ministry for 31 tanker aircraft is being in the pipeline".

This autumn, news came about an upcoming order for Ulyanovsk-built Il-76s to be awarded by the Russian Emergencies Ministry. On 8 September 2014, the Emergencies Ministry and UAC made an agreement on devising the tactical and economic feasibility study of supplying the ministry's air units during 2016-2025 with six Il-76TD-90A aircraft, being a commercial derivative of the Il-76MD-90A airlifter. The air branches of the Federal Security Service and Ministry of the Interior may well become next customers for the advanced Il-76MD-90A aircraft made in Ulyanovsk. The two have displayed interest in such planes fitted with up-to-date powerplants and the avionics suite.

As is known, UAC's strategic objective is to turn Aviastar-SP into its main transport aircraft production facility. The first step towards the objective has been the productionising of the Il-76MD-90A upgraded airlifter, on which Aviastar's efforts are focused now.

On 7 October 2014 chairing a conference at Aviastar-SP, dedicated to the upgrade of the plant's production facilities and the status of the Il-76MD-90A programme, UAC President Mikhail Pogosyan said: "The transport aircraft construction programme is on schedule, in general. The first production-standard aircraft is to be delivered in 2014. Today, Aviastar-SP's orderbook is sufficient for ramping up the aircraft production steadily. We are to achieve an Il-76MD-90A output rate of 18 units per annum within several years. This will call for drastic consolidation of resources and a hefty increase in the number of basic production workers".

(Photo: Aviastar-SP / UAC)

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