Il 76 – The multi-purpose Soviet strategic airlifter

The Ilyushin Il 76 is a Soviet strategic airlifter originally designed to transport heavy machinery to rural and underserved areas of the USSR as a replacement for the Antonov An-12 turboprop. The Il 76 first took flight on March 25, 1971, and five decades later the aircraft has continued to spread its wings across Europe, Asia and Africa. Let’s delve into the history and superiority of the multi-purpose Soviet military transport aircraft Il 76.

Ilyushin He 76
Photo from

In a world dominated by Boeing and Airbus aircraft, one cannot simply ignore the presence of Soviet-era multipurpose aircraft illustrating the power of the Soviet aircraft industry. While the Soviet Union crumbled for decades, some planes from its glory days still fly in the skies today. The Ilyushin Il 76 is one of these extraordinary aircraft.


Ilyushin Il 76 is a Russian multi-purpose fixed-wing, four-engine strategic airlifter widely used as a commercial and military cargo ship for the delivery of equipment, weapons, supplies and troops and as an emergency transport for relief operations in the event of a disaster. Designed by the former Soviet “Ilyushin Design Bureau”, Il 76 was designed in the late 1960s to meet the needs of a heavy transport aircraft that could carry a payload of over 88,000 pounds. The resulting heavy freighter had to cover a distance of 5,000 kilometers in less than six hours and possess the ability to take off from short, unprepared runways and withstand the adverse weather conditions of Siberia and the Arctic regions.

Ilyushin He 76
Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 seen at the 2017 Royal International Air Tattoo at Royal Air Force Fairford in Gloucestershire — Photo by

First flown in March 1971, Il 76 entered service in 1975 and became a huge success. The aircraft underwent several modifications in terms of power plant, size and service purpose. Further development of the Il 76 took place from 2004 when it was upgraded to the Il-76TD-90VD version to serve the commercial purpose with the newly developed PS-90 engine.

Ilyushin Aviation Complex Joint Stock Company had tremendous success with Il 76, which eventually saw large-scale production with large orders from several countries, including the People’s Republic of China, where assembly of the aircraft took place licensed.


Modernization of the Il-76 series continued with the introduction of several prototypes and development variants. Military variants of the Il 76 include the Il-76-Tu160 tail carrier, Il-76 D ‘Desantnyi’, Il-76K/Il-76MDK/Il-76MDK-II, Il-76LL ‘letayuschchaya laboratoriya’, Il-76M Modified, Il-76MD Modified Long Range, Il-76 MD Skal’pel-MT, Il-76M/Il-76MD, Il-76-MD-90, IL-76MD-M, IL-76MD-90A, etc

Read also : IL 76 Aircraft to airlift mortal remains of Indian Pilgrims

Civilian cargo transport variants of Il 76 include Il-76MGA, Il-76P, Il-76T, Il-76TD, Il-76TD-90, Il-76TD-90VD, IL-76TD-S, Il-76TF, etc. . , there are special-purpose variants to perform the role of telemetry and communications relay, missile tracking, electronic intelligence, and other unknown missions.


The unsung hero of cargo logistics and a favorite of air forces around the world, the Ilyushin Il 76 is an iconic Soviet-era model packed with versatile features. From basic transport work to a specialized aerial firefighting role, zero-G formation and Ilyushin Il 76 do it all. If you are wondering what the Il 76 is used for, this extraordinary aircraft can perform the following functions:

1. The original Il 76 is a purely military transport aircraft built to transport strategic military cargo to frontline airbases in underdeveloped regions of the USSR with the worst environmental conditions. The Soviet war in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1991 saw extensive use of the Il 76 for military and cargo transport.

2. Need to transport oversized or unusually heavy items? The Il 76 commercial freighter can lift massive cargo and enter and exit unpaved runways with few or no facilities. This heavy cargo aircraft has a unique ability to operate in rough terrain. Thus, transporting goods to distant villages is easy.

3. As a military cargo ship, Il 76 occupies a leading position in countries like Russia, Algeria, Belarus, China, Cuba, India, Iran, Libya, North Korea , Ukraine, etc., to transport payloads of up to 50 tons and drop cargo, supplies and vehicles.

4. One of the unique features of the Ilyushin Il 76 is its robust and reliable airframe which can sustain heavy damage and remain operational. It can handle the extreme weather conditions encountered in Siberia and the Arctic regions of the Soviet Union, making the Il 76 ideal for air operations in Antarctica.

Ilyushin He 76
Kaunas Lithuania 2021-01-25 (EW-383TH) Ilyushin Il-76TD – Rubystar. Photo from

5. In addition to playing the role of commercial and military cargo, the Ilyushin Il 76 also functions as an emergency response transport in the event of war, epidemic or natural disaster. During its history, Il 76 has contributed extensively to humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations and has airlifted supplies and equipment a distance from airports with little or no cargo devices.

6. It 76 offers unrivaled and unparalleled flexibility in performing much-needed support roles including cosmonaut training, aerial firefighting, airborne laser platform, civilian mobile aircraft, and more.

While most operators use the IL 76 as a commercial or military freighter for ramp-delivered cargo, some use it as an air-to-air tanker or command center, and a few as a water bomber for firefighting .


The Soviet-designed Ilyushin Il 76 turbofan transport aircraft was originally built as a military aircraft with two cranes traveling over airways, two guns in a rear turret and four engines producing 26,455 pounds of thrust each, a top speed of 528 miles per hour, ceiling of 50,850 feet and hard benches.

The widely used civilian versions of the Ilyushin Il 76 – the IL 76-T and IL 76-TD, were introduced in 1978 and 1982, respectively, to transport heavy payloads to remote areas. The IL 76-T unarmed civilian cargo transport version features a conventional aerodynamic configuration with a high swept wing, four engines on underwing pylons, a high T-tail and full pressurization on the aircraft cabin. crew, the hold, aft compartment and handling equipment inside the hold. It can carry a payload of 48,000 kg in medium-haul flight at a maximum distance of 4,600 km.

The Il 76-TD, the civilian equivalent of the Il-76MD military transport version, is powered by 4 Soloviev D-30KP turbofan engines to give it the maximum speed of 900 km/h and accommodates a total of 5 crew members. crew. Compared to its predecessor, the IL-76T, the Il-76TD has increased fuel capacity due to enlarged fuel tanks, better performance at higher ambient temperatures, and strengthened airframes that ease takeoff weights higher.

The modern IL-76MD-90A

Although Il 76 was designed in Soviet times, Russia has not only continued the tradition of keeping and flying this iconic bird. Yet, it has also made some much-needed upgrades and improvements to keep it at the forefront. Since the maiden flight on March 25, 1971 until now, Russia is still producing the Ilyushin 76 in a few quantities. On par with modern advanced technology features, Russian state-owned United Aircraft Corporation deployed its first Il-76-MD-90A at Aviastar’s Ulyanovsk plant in 2014.

Il-76-MD-90A is the new variant and successor of the prolific Soviet military freighter Ilyushin Il 76 powered by high-speed PS-90A turbofan engines, which meet all international environmental standards. This latest model offers more economy, greater range and a payload capacity of up to 60 tonnes, 20% more than its predecessors. It has 25% greater range and features internal improvements such as advanced avionics and multi-function cockpit displays, improved control and fuel system, digital automatic aircraft control system and observation complex and navigation.

Ilyushin He 76
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The Russian military industry is reaching new heights every day with significant breakthroughs in the production of Il 76 aircraft, infusing the latest technology and creative spirit of the Soviet era. With the completion of the first military cargo plane on a new Aviastar-SP assembly line in 2021, Russia has invested in its ability to project military power for decades.

Il 76 Operators

Launching operations from obscurity, Il 76 marked a milestone as a landmark Soviet-era design and earned a reputation as a versatile cargo aircraft around the world, routinely flying for operators in North Africa, in Russia, Asia and the former Soviet republics. . Ilyushin Il 76 is one of Russia’s most successful cargo projects, with over 960 units built to date.

The list of major military operators of the IL 76 include Russian Air Force, Ukrainian Air Force and Indian Air Force, while major civilian operators include TransAVIAexport Airlines in Belarus, Silk Way Airlines in Azerbaijan, Tesis Aviation Enterprise, Aviacon Zitotrans, etc.

How much does the Il 76 cost?

The legendary Russian strategic and tactical transport aircraft has a remarkable value in the market. The price of Ilyushin 76 hovers around $50 million.

Interesting facts about Ilyushin Il 76

  • Deployed in active service during the Soviet-Afghan War, the Ilyushin Il 76 was the basic troop carrier of the Soviet Union, carrying 89% of Soviet troops and 74% of air cargo.
  • The Il 76’s on-board crane, used for loading and unloading heavy-duty cargo, can lift up to 10 tons.
  • Suited for Antarctic adventures, Il 76 successfully operated two Antarctic parachute drops for Argentina’s Belgrano II station, delivering 166 tonnes of supplies on each occasion over nine round-trip flights.

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