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Soviet-Era Workhorse Gets a Second Life: Legendary  IL-76 to Carry Passengers in Russia

The IL-76 is known as a military and cargo aircraft, but Russia now plans to use it as a civilian plane.

In the second half of the 1960s, the Soviet Union required the creation of a new military transport aircraft. The prospective aircraft was supposed to transport various cargoes and carry out troop drops by landing and parachute. The specialists of the Ilyushin Design Bureau developed the aircraft, and the chief designer approved the project in 1967. Thus, one of the most successful Soviet heavy military transport aircraft, the Il-76, came into being.

The first prototype of the “seventy-sixth” was built in 1971 in Moscow at the “Strela” plant. In March of that year, the aircraft successfully made its first flight, and already in May, it was demonstrated to the general public and shown to foreigners at the international air show in Le Bourget. Soviet citizens saw the Il-76 for the first time in September 1971 in the film “The Last Flight of the Albatross.” Almost two years later, the new model reached serial production. In May 1973, the first unit rolled off the assembly line at the Tashkent Aviation Production Association. It was there, in sunny Uzbekistan, that all Soviet Il-76s would be produced and repeatedly modernized.

Il-76MD-90A Civil
Il-76MD-90A for Civil Aviation

The official operation of the aircraft began in 1975. Initially, the plane could lift only 28 tons of cargo into the sky, but subsequently, the payload capacity was increased first to 42 tons, then to 48 tons, and eventually to 50 tons. The aircraft’s capacity was initially 225 people, but it was later increased to 250. Without refueling, with a payload of 40 tons, the aircraft could cover up to 4,750 km. Over decades of service, even during the Soviet era, the Il-76 saw numerous modifications. The “seventy-sixth” was used for far more than just cargo or passenger transport. For instance, variants of the aircraft included an airborne command post, a flying laboratory, a tanker, an airborne early warning and control aircraft, and many others.

The Il-76 did not become widely used as a passenger aircraft in the Soviet Union. During its entire period of operation, there was only one such aircraft. In 1973, it made its first flight and then completed another seven flights. In civilian air transport, the aircraft had decent prospects, even earning the nickname “airplane-bus” as a joke. However, the conversion project was decided to be closed because work on the new wide-body aircraft Il-86 was already in full swing. The Il-86, by the way, would be used in civilian aviation from 1980 to 1997.

Il-76MD-90A – Russia’s Newest Commercial Airliner

Now, however, the Il-76 has been given a second life. Following the Western sanctions, Russia has found itself without access to the usual foreign-made aircraft. In these conditions, the demand for domestic technologies is growing like never before. One of these is the Il-76, which is now being produced again in Ulyanovsk, Russia, at the Aviastar-SP plant. Recently, the aircraft was once again approved by “Rosaviatsia” for civilian transport. The first operators of the legendary machines will be “S7 Airlines” and “Ural Airlines.” The passenger version of the aircraft has been designated the Il-76MD-90A and, after another modernization, will be able to carry between 300 and 320 passengers.



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