Air Transportation: Russian Il-76 Transport Aircraft



February 17, 2024: The Il-76 transport is 97-ton four engine jet aircraft that can carry 97 tons of cargo. More often the cargo weighs no more than 52 tons which allows for a range of 4,400 kilometers. The air distance from New York City to Los Angeles is 3,983 kilometers. The distance from St Petersburg in western Russian to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast is more than twice that. An Il-76 has to make one refueling stop to cover such a long flight.

The Il-76 entered service in 1974 and 969 have been produced so far. Russia uses most of them but about a third of all Il-76s were exported to 38 countries, including Ukraine which obtained more than 60 for commercial and military use. The Il-76 is one of the most successful air transports ever produced. Upgrades have been made to the aircraft over the years to keep it competitive in terms of economical fuel use and reliability.

Back in 2012 the Russian Air Force announced ambitious plans to invigorate their aging force of air transports. This was to be accomplished by ordering 170 new aircraft by 2020. These included 20 An-124s, 39 Il-76s, 11 An-140s, 30 L-410s, 50 Il-214s, and 20 An-148s. In 2012 the air force depended on a lot of Cold War era transports like the An-124s, An-22s, Il-76s, and An-12, An-72, An-24, and An-26s. A lot of the older transports cannot be used because of age or cannot be used much because of the high cost of maintenance. Some of the older aircraft like An-124s and Il-76s will be refurbished, but most of the remainder will be scrapped as they become too old to be used because they are too expensive to maintain or simply too unreliable.

The An-124 is the world's largest production aircraft and can carry a payload of 120 tons. Russia has been trying to get it back into production for over a decade. The Il-76 can carry up to 60 tons and is an update of the original Il-76 which was similar to the older U.S. C-141, which was replaced by the C-17 in the 1990s. The An-140 is a twin turboprop transport from Ukraine that can carry up to five tons of cargo or 52 passengers. The L-410 is similar to the An-140 but smaller and carries about 1.5 tons or 19 passengers. The Il-214 is a twin-jet transport, still in development, that can carry 20 tons and is expected to enter service in 2026, or later depending on how long the Ukraine War lasts. The An-148 is a twin jet passenger aircraft that can carry up to 80 people or nine tons. This one is often used as a VIP transport for hauling generals and senior government officials around.

The new aircraft are more reliable and cheaper to operate. If the new aircraft are not purchased, at a cost of nearly $10 billion, the Russian Air Force will have very little transport capability at all in a decade or so. All these purchases were not made by 2020 and, because of the high cost of the 2022 Ukraine War, purchasing all these new aircraft will take longer than originally planned.

Before the Ukraine War the Russian military had 112 Il-76s. Several have been destroyed so far because of accidents or ground fire. Most of the 60 Ukrainian Il-76s are used by airlines. There is a similar situation in Russia, although the Russian Air Force can order commercial airlines to make their Il-76s available for military use.




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