A purposeful pilot – or should that be porpoise-ful?

Regular readers will be familiar with the Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft, which entered service in the Soviet Union during the 1970’s as an approximate counterpart to the US Lockheed C-141 Starlifter.  (We saw an Il-76 make a spectacularly long and nearly disastrous take-off in Australia a few years ago.)

A longer, upgraded version of the plane, the Il-76MF model, was developed in the 1990’s, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union it didn’t enter series production.  Only two were manufactured for the Jordanian Air Force, and are operated on its behalf by Jordan International Air Cargo.  However, despite its greater performance, the new version still needs good pilots to get the most out of it.  This video clip of an Il-76MF making a landing controlled crash is a worthwhile reminder that an aircraft is only as good as its aircrew.

I could almost feel the collective wince from my aviation-minded readers.  It’s a good thing the Russians build tough planes!  After that landing, perhaps it should be renamed the ‘Porpoise’ . . .

A newer and further upgraded version, known as the Il-76MD-90A or Il-476, has been developed for the Russian Air Force, and will enter service in 2014.  It has more powerful engines and uses a high proportion of composite materials in the fuselage and wings, saving a lot of weight.  Here’s a video of the prototype at this year’s MAKS airshow near Moscow.  It certainly appears to have a significantly better takeoff performance than earlier models, and to be more nimble in the air.

There’s worldwide demand for a rugged, tough airlifter in the 30-60 ton cargo class (i.e. capable of carrying up to 2½ times as much cargo as the Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules) at a reasonable price.  The Il-476 will have to compete with the Airbus A400M Atlas, which is probably more fuel-economical and may have equal or better rough-field performance, but is a very expensive aircraft.  It will also compete against the Ukraine’s Antonov An-70, which is turboprop-powered like the A400M, but larger, capable of carrying a heavier payload, and Japan’s Kawasaki C-2, which so far hasn’t attracted much foreign interest. If the Russians price the Il-476 at a reasonable level, they may attract a number of foreign orders at these competitors’ expense.

On the other hand, jet-powered competitors in the C-130 weight class will shortly become available, including Embraer’s KC-390 and the Russian-Indian joint-venture UAC/HAL Il-214.  Their purchase price should be much less than any of the larger transports mentioned above, and they should also cost less to operate.  A prospective customer may decide to go with more and smaller transports, and divide cargo shipments into smaller loads.  It’ll be interesting to see how the military cargo field plays out over the next few years.



  1. Don't know if the cropping of the view is deliberate, but I couldn't figure out how they were controlling roll in that -90A. Possibly rudder to a large extent, but the ailerons always seemed to be pointing the wrong way, the few times they were visible. I think they may also be using differential spoilers for control, but that might have been camera angle. One shot even gave the impression that the leading edge flaps were not equally deployed.

    Still, seems to be a nicely controllable aircraft, with good power/weight, judging by that takeoff. I'm assuming that was empty, of course.

    Love that Russian Bomber nose design! How do they justify the expense of it, in a commercial freighter?

  2. Call Guinness, that landing might be the world's biggest wheelbarrow!

    Will, regarding the aileron deflection. I think what we're looking at is a flaperon system. When the flaps are extended both ailerons droop down the same amount from the normal position aligned with the trailing edge. When a drooped flaperon is in the up position it may still be below the trailing edge so it would look as though the aircraft was rolling the wing down with the flaperon below the trailing edge. Since we can't see both ailerons at the same time in the video, it's hard to tell.
    Drooping the flaperons increases wing camber and hence low speed lift which is very desirable in a STOL aircraft. Flaperons can be found on STOL aircraft like the DHC/Viking Twin Otter. Incidentally, Grumman Intruders have 'decelerons' where the aileron opens into a speed brake.

    You are quite correct in that they are using the outboard spoilers for roll control. The DHC-8 has a similiar system where ailerons and 'spoilerons' are controlled together by the yoke.


  3. in regards to your comment abut the increase nimbleness of the Il-476 .. this was surely flown in "airshow trim" – i.e. no payload and and only fuel for 15 minutes or so in the tank ..

    in that case almost any aircraft is capable of nice takeoff and meneuver performance – even notorious groundhuggers like a A340-200

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