The Ilyushin IL-62 was a very capable long-range aircraft in its day, and an important one for Soviet flag carrier Aeroflot. These days it’s almost impossible to find flying, which is a shame. Its most distinctive characteristic is clearly the four tail-mounted engines – an audacious and rare design. As with many Russian jets from the 1960s, it’s loud and tends to leave a trail of black smoke behind it. It’s hard to miss, in other words.

A much-loved Russian relic

The IL-62 holds a special place in my heart because though I wasn’t aware of the aircraft type at the time, I’m pretty sure I flew on one from Tokyo Narita to Moscow Shetemetyevo. This was back in 1989. What my parents were thinking booking their kids on Aeroflot at that time I can’t really say. But having survived the trip, I’m glad we did it. If only I had any photos.

Russia IL-62 Aeroflot
A shot from 1993 of the Aeroflot IL-62 landing in Palma de Mallorca (PMI).

We talked about the “cargo beast” IL-76 in a post a while back, and it’s hard to beat that one for overall looks. Ilyushin made many models of interesting-looking aircraft over the years. But the IL-62 stands out, in part because it manages to come across as both tough and oddly graceful at the same time.

A successful aircraft

The type’s first flight was in 1963 and it was in service a handful of years later. It’s a narrow-body, but could seat around 200 passengers. And it did pretty well commercially, with almost 300 produced and a number exported beyond the Soviet Union (though mostly to friendly countries like North Korea and Cuba.) Its wide-body successors like the IL-86 and IL-96 booked notably fewer orders overall.

Russia state government official IL-62 Ilyushin
An IL-62 flying for Russia State Transport Company.
IL-62 Ukraine government
Here’s an IL-62 flying for the Ukraine government, captured in 2014.

Very few are left

These days your best (and basically only) bet to catch an IL-62 out flying in the wild is in keeping tabs on the the two operated by Rada Airlines. They run cargo, and not very regularly at that, but periodically they do appear here and there. Routes like Juba (JUB) in South Sudan to Liege (LGG). The kind of route old Russian freighters seem to specialize in. The two aircraft are registered EW-450TR and EW-505TR.

Rada Airlines cargo Ilyushin IL-76
A Rada Airlines IL-62 snapped in Malta.

You can always try North Korea

Heading to North Korea to fly on Air Koryo has been the only way to fly on a passenger IL-62 for some years. Presumably that is still the case, though with North Korea more closed down than ever because of the pandemic, it’s unclear when or even if anyone will have the chance again.

Air Koryo IL-62 Beijing
Air Koryo has often used its IL-62 planes for the important Beijing-Pyongyang run.

A plane best experienced audio-visually

But you can’t truly appreciate the IL-62 if you’re only looking at photos. You need to hear the sounds, and see the smoke. If not in person, then video is the next best thing. Luckily for us, there are many.

Here’s a rather fun one showing what it’s like to sit next to those engines on an Air Koryo flight (make sure to turn up the sound for the takeoff!)

And if you’re curious about what the cabin looks like, and how these planes sound with the engines spooling up on the tarmac, this video is recommended viewing.

Finally, don’t miss this stunning video of the Rada Airlines IL-62 landing, and later taking off again, in a heavy crosswind at Basel (BSL).

Featured image © Jeroen Stroes