If you’re in the market for some heavy-duty, exceedingly rugged cargo planes, the former Soviet sphere is definitely the place to look. There are a handful of aircraft designed during Soviet times that were designed either to lift massive amounts of cargo, or operate in harsh Siberian environments, or both. And while they may be a bit over-engineered for most missions these days, they certainly look and sound compelling.
While the six-engined Antonov An-225 gets a lot of the attention as the largest cargo plane around, it’s worth remembering the Ilyushin IL-76 too. This relatively unsung hero of logistics is still flying around for a number of operators – many of them in North Africa, Russia, and the former Soviet republics. It is a favorite of air forces in many of these countries, but it runs civilian cargo missions as well. Operators like Silk Way, Volga-Dnepr and others fit into this category.
The Ilyushin IL-76 is a photogenic airplane
If we continue to browse the IL-76 photo library over on Jetphotos.com, it’s difficult to pick a favorite. The Uzbekistan Air Force example in our header image is quite the stunner. Though the Belarus Air Force models are also contenders.
The Russian Federal Border Guards Aviation Command puts in a strong showing.
And this snap of an Algerian Air Force IL-76 in Beijing feels like it could be the start of a particularly good James Bond scene.
In fact the Chinese Air Force has some too.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard? They also fly it.
A bit of Ilyushin IL-76 history
The IL-76 was designed in the 1960s to be an ultra-rugged, all-purpose heavy lifter. It had to be able to operate in and out of sketchy runways and handle the worst that extreme Russian weather could throw at it. In that goal, it seems to have succeeded.
The planes were built in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 860 were built between the early 1970s and late 1990s, when production stopped. Later there was a modernization program that placed new, quieter engines on the IL-76 in order to meet European noise requirements.
What’s with the glass chin?
You’ll notice if you look closely that the IL-76, like a number of old Soviet aircraft, has glass in the lower-half of its nose. This was specially made for a navigator to be able to have an excellent view of the outside, especially when landing. A navigator in that position could much more easily spot runways and drop zones, etc.
And how about the flight deck?
The IL-76 flight deck and navigator’s cabin are real aviation throwbacks. Here’s a look inside both.
Where can I find them?
Due to the nature of their operators (namely, militaries and lesser-known cargo operators) the IL-76 can be elusive. Ilyushin keeps a list online of IL-76 in operation that have been officially certified by them, and looking up their registrations can be a start. But keep in mind that many of those on the list haven’t flown for some time. One example that has is Silkway’s 4K-AZ41. Out of its base in Baku (GYD) it has recently completed flight to Baghdad, Niamey, Kuwait City and Leipzig. Not a bad list.
There won’t be so many visible at any given time, but if you want to check the map for any IL-76 flying, you can use the Filters function on Flightradar24. Just select Filters, then Aircraft, and input “IL76”. The beauty of these planes is they’re often flying all number of odd routes. Let us know what you come across.