IL-76MD Transport Aircraft
The Ilyushin IL-76MD (NATO codename: Candid-B) is the most capable military transport aircraft currently in service with the PLA Air Force (PLAAF). The aircraft was designed by Ilyushin Design Bureau and built by Chkalov Aircraft Production Association at its Tashkent plant in Uzbekistan. The PLAAF acquired fourteen IL-76MDs in the early 1990s. and has ordered an additional 34 aircraft in 2005. in addition to the basic transport variant, the PLAAF also operates few examples of AWACS and aerial engine testbed based on the IL-76 airframe.
China procured from the Soviet Union three IL-76MD jet military transport aircraft in 1990, and China’s official media confirmed the arrival of these planes in 1991. In 1992, China ordered an additional seven IL-76s in a deal worth US$200 million that was paid 40% in hard currency and 60% in barter goods. The third order was noted in the mid-1990s. By 1998 China had acquired a total of 14 IL-76s. These IL-76s are operated by the PLAAF 13th Air Division from its Danyang Air Station in Hubei Province. They carry the four-digit civilian aircraft register number (B-4XXX) as camouflage.
PLA paratroopers boarding an IL-76 transport (Chinese Internet)
PLAAF’s first dedicated heavy-lift military transport, the IL-76MD provides significant improvement in the PLAAF’s airlift capability. Each IL-76MD could carry 190 troops, or three armoured vehicles, over a distance of 6,100km, 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. Recent PLA exercises have featured the transport in a variety of operations, demonstrating its ability to fill the airlift gap previously existed with the PLAAF.
Current deployment of the IL-76MD in the PLAAF include 14 examples: B-4030, B-4031, B-4032, B-4033, B-4034, B-4035, B-4036, B-4037, B-4038, B-4039, B-4040, B-4041, B-4042, B-4043.
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 a telpher (an overhead cargo system where the cargo can be suspended 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 23mm cannon in its tail turret, the IL-76MDs in service with the PLAAF are not fitted with fixed weapon. 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.
A PLAAF IL-76 dropping airborne fighting vehicles during an exercise (Chinese Internet)
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.
IL-76 Engine Testbed
China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) currently operates a flying testbed converted from a Russian-made Il-76MD jet transport aircraft to serve as a flying testbed for future engine development programmes. The first engine to be tested on the aircraft is the WS-10A “Taihang” turbofan, currently being developed as the powerplant for China’s indigenous J-10 and J-11 fighter aircraft. The Il-76MD '76456', acquired by the AVIC 1 from Russia in the 1990s, is currently based at CFTE’s flight test facility at Yanliang, Shaanxi Province.
The IL-76MD flying testbed was designated to accumulate comprehensive in-flight data on new jet engines for civil and military aircraft. The aircraft has a test engine installed at the left inboard position, and can fly only with the remaining three D-30KP turbofan jet engines.
Additional Order of the IL-76 and IL-78
In September 2005 news reports confirmed that China and Russia had signed a contract worth US$1.045 billion for the sale of thirty more IL-76MD transports as well as four IL-78 aerial refuelling tankers. The agreement has reportedly been discussed for four years and the deal worth US$1.045 billion was reached following the demonstration of both aircraft in the 2005 China-Russia joint military exercise. These aircraft would be built in in Uzbekistan, but sold to China through the Russian state-run arms trader Rosoboronexport in Moscow. The PLAAF has formed a new airlift division—4th Air Division to operate these new aircraft.
In March 2007, it was reported that the delivery of these aircraft was delayed due to increased production costs. Media reports say Russia's state arms trader, Rosoboronexport, decided in 2006 to transfer most of the production to Russia. Uzbekistan's Tashkent Chkalov Aircraft Association, which initially won the contract in 2005, will now only build 15 of the transport planes as a subcontractor to Russia's Ilyushin.
First deliveries under the contract between Rosoboronexport and China were due to begin in 2007, but in 2006, Tashkent refused to sign a production contract with Rosoboronexport at the contract price. Russia demanded an increase of price to US$1.5 billion, which was refused by China. The agreement was delayed, and Beijing suspended negotiations on several other military contracts with Moscow.
In late 2006, Rosoboronexport decided to completely change the contractor for the aircraft deal. All 34 aircraft will now be assembled at the Ulyanovsk Aircraft Plant in Russia. A source in Ilyushin Company confirmed that Beijing has finally agreed to renegotiate the price on the aircraft, on the condition that newer aircraft models and terms of delivery will also be discussed. Chinese delegates also visited the Ulyanovsk Aircraft Plant in early 2008.
In the News
Last update: 17 January 2009