Though its production lines fell silent in the 1990s, the Ilyushin Il-76 is now experiencing a renaissance, as Piotr Butowski reveals
With half a century of Russian transport aviation history under its belt, the Ilyushin Il-76 has become an iconic aircraft. Now, with production starting to pick up pace once again, the new version (designated Il-76MD-90A or product 476), complete with its raft of upgrades, is likely to see the airlifter continue to be as important in the future as it has been in the past.
It was on March 25, 1971, that the Ilyushin Il-76 took off for the first time. The brand-new heavy transport aircraft flew from the now defunct Khodynka airfield in Moscow – where the Ilyushin Design Bureau and its workshops are located, and where the Il-76 prototype (serial number CCCP-86712) was built. With a minimal reserve of fuel, and after a run-up of only 2,247ft (685m), the aircraft (piloted by the crew of Eduard Kuznetsov) bypassed the Kremlin, located 3.2nm (6km) away, and landed in Zhukovsky, southeast of Moscow, to continue its testing there.
Two months later, the aircraft made its public debut at the Le Bourget air show in France. The Soviet government decided to place serial production of the new Ilyushin Il-76 at the Chkalov aviation plant in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (then the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic), which was producing the Antonov An-12 and Antonov An-22 at the time.