The Ilyushin IL-76 (NATO reporting name: ‘Candid’) is a large four-engine jet military transport designed by Ilyushin Design Bureau in the early 1970s. The PLAAF acquired 14 examples of the Il-76MD ‘Candid-B’ variant in 1990, which has remained the only strategic airlifter in its service until the introduction of the indigenous Xi’an Y-20. Additional examples of remanufactured airframes have been ordered as a stop-gap.
- Type: Large jet transport
- Designer: Ilyushin Design Bureau
- Manufacturer: Chkalov Aircraft Production Association, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
- First flight: 25 March 1971
- Introduction: 1974 (Soviet Air Force); 1990 (PLA Air Force)
- Crew: 5
- In-flight refuelling: No
China procured from the Soviet Union three examples of the Il-76MD military jet transport in 1990, and received these aircraft in 1991. An additional 7 examples were ordered in 1992 in a deal worth US$200 million that was paid 40% in hard currency and 60% in barter goods. The third order of 4 examples was noted in the mid-1990s. By 1998 China had acquired a total of 14 Il-76MDs. These aircraft have been operated by the PLAAF 13th Air Division from its Danyang Air Base in Hubei Province. As a camouflage but also to allow them to be used for commercial flights, these Il-76MDs carried the four-digit civilian aircraft register number (B-4XXX).
The Il-76MD provides significant improvement in the PLAAF’s strategic airlift capability. Each aircraft could carry 190 troops, or three armoured vehicles, over a distance of 6,100 km, and drop them directly to enemy zone. The aircraft’s airdrop and cargo handing equipment allows it to load, unload and air drop paratroopers, materiel and cargo quickly. The onboard avionics is intended to execute airlift and airdrop missions by day and at night, in VFR (visual flight rules) and IFR (instrument flight rules) weather conditions, as well as under hostile air defence conditions.
In September 2005 news reports confirmed that China and Russia had signed a contract worth US$1.045 billion for the sale of 30 examples of the Il-76MD transport as well as 4 examples of the Il-78 aerial refuelling tankers, after four years of negotiations. According to the agreement, these aircraft were to be built by Tashkent Chkalov Aircraft Association in Uzbekistan, but sold to China through the Russian state-run arms trader Rosoboronexport in Moscow. The PLAAF activated a new airlift unit—the 4th Air Division to operate these new aircraft.
First deliveries under the contract between Rosoboronexport and China were due to begin in 2007. However, by 2006 it became clear that the Il-76MD production had already stopped at Tashkent plant and the company could only produce 15 aircraft using already-made kits. The remainder of the 34 aircraft had to be built in Russia at a newly built production facility, which led to Russia’s demand to increase the price tag to US$1.5 billion. The demand was declined by China and eventually the whole deal collapsed.
In December 2011, China purchased 3 second-hand examples of the Il-76MD from Russia for its strategic airlift fleet, which desperately needed upgrade. These aircraft were delivered in 2012. China has subsequently ordered 10 more remanufactured ex-Soviet Air Force Il-76 airframes in both the MD and TD variants as a stopgap before its indigenous Y-20 can enter service in significant numbers.
CFTE Engine Testbed
China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) operated a flying testbed converted from a Russian-made Il-76MD jet transport (register number ‘76456’) for aero-engine testing. The first engine to be tested on the aircraft was the WS-10A Taihang turbofan. The test engine is installed at the left inboard position, and the aircraft can fly with only the remaining three D-30KP turbofan jet engines.
The Il-76 has high-mounted, swept-back wings tapered with blunt tips and a slight negative slant. The wing leading and trailing edges are fitted with high-lift devices, comprising deflectable five-section leading-edge slats, triple-slotted trailing-edge extension flaps, ailerons, spoilers and air brakes. Four turbofan engines are mounted on pylons under and extending beyond wings’ leading edges. The fuselage is long, round, and tapering to the rear, featuring a rounded nose with radome on the chin. The bottom portion of the nose is glassed-in. The crew cabin, cargo hold and rear compartment are pressurised. The tail flats are swept-back, tapered, and high-mounted on a swept-back, with the tapered tail fin forming a T-shape, a design commonly seen on most of modern military transport aircraft.
The Il-76 has a set of well-designed airdrop and cargo handing equipment, which enable the aircraft to load, unload and airdrop paratroopers, vehicle and cargo in a short period of time. The equipment comprises an overhead cargo system where the cargo can be hoisted from an electrically powered rail, a roller conveyer, mooring/rigging, auxiliary parachute and ambulance equipment.
Although the Il-76 could be fitted with a twin-barrel 23-mm cannon in its tail turret, the examples in service with the PLAAF are not armed. For self-defence purpose, the aircraft is equipped with a defensive aids suite, which comprises a radar warning receiver (RWR), jammer, infrared flare cartridges and chaff dispenser. In time of emergency, aerial bombs or radio beacons could be suspended from external bomb racks on detachable pylons.
The integrated flight control and aiming-navigation system includes a compass system, ground surveillance radar, a central digital computer, automatic monitoring system, automatic flight control system, short-range radio navigation and landing system, IFF transponder, optical/infrared aiming sight, and a ground collision warning system.
The Il-76MD is powered by four D-30KP turbofan engines, mounted on underwing pylons and housed in individual pods secured on the engines. Fuel is held in twelve integral tanks, which are isolated from each other. All fuel tanks are divided into four groups by the number of the engines. An inert gas system is used for protection against explosion.