Russian pilot praises IL-76 aircraft longevity amid Patriot hit

U.S. media outlets have corroborated the downing of a Russian Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft over the Belgorod region, attributing the incident to Ukraine’s U.S.-made Patriot air defense missile system. Despite the incident, Russia seized the opportunity to commend the aircraft’s new variant during the World Defense Show in Saudi Arabia. 

Russia Arms orders remain stable at $55 billion despite sanctions - Il-76MD-90A
Photo credit: Telegram

A prominent test pilot from the Ilyushin Public Joint Stock Company [PJSC] emphasizes that the updated Il-76MD-90A meets all the criteria of modern strategic air transport, reflecting a series of enhancements drawn from practical operational experience with the aircraft. 

An Il-76 faced a tragic accident in Belgorod on January 24. Russia’s subsequent declarations stated that it was transporting 65 Ukrainian Prisoners of War [PoWs] and implied that the crash was not accidental. The blame was laid on a Patriot missile, inferred from the unique damage patterns discovered on the wreckage. 

Several Russian military transport aircraft have landed at airbase in Syria
Source: Pinterest

Evidence of numerous perforations on the plane’s exterior, mirroring characteristics of a blast fragmentation proximity fuse-activated warhead—found commonly in many surface-to-air missiles [SAMs]—were displayed. 

Further investigation by Russian investigators uncovered remnants of a Patriot missile. An article published in The New York Times [NYT] reinforced these findings, quoting anonymous officials who confirmed that a Patriot missile was indeed responsible for downing the plane. 

Ukrainian intelligence officers also indirectly echoed Russia’s allegations about the aircraft carrying PoWs. They revealed that an orderly and routine prisoner swap was underway with Moscow. However, they diplomatically chose not to comment directly about the identity of the passengers or the cargo aboard the doomed aircraft.

Premier and gorgeous jet

Sergei Sukhar, the head test pilot at Ilyushin, has indicated that the Il-76MD-90A, a “heavy military transport aircraft,” boasts “enhanced features.”  

Speaking on the fringe of the World Defense Show in Saudi Arabia, Sukhar shared, “The lifespan of the aircraft, typically around 30 years, could potentially stretch up to 50 with regular maintenance and careful handling.”  

“The modernized Il-76 undoubtedly conforms to all the contemporary global prerequisites for an aircraft of its class. The only potential modifications during its service life might be software adjustments,” added Sukhar in his statement. 

Ulyanovsk supplied another Il-76 military aircraft to Russian VKS
Video screenshot

This likely implies that the flight control computer software is critical in alleviating the pilot’s burden by managing the aircraft and ensuring its adaptability while carrying varying weights, flying at different altitudes, and traversing varied terrains. 

According to Sukhar, the Il-76MD-90A has attracted the attention of foreign diplomats. “Both the hosts and the delegates from neighboring regions have sought us out. There’s a significant buzz about our aircraft. And why not? The IL-76 is quite a sight to behold. Its size, symmetry, elegance – everything makes it visually appealing,” said Sukhar. 

Sukhar highlighted the unique and unusual color scheme chosen by Ilyushin and United Aircraft Corporation [UAC] for the plane, which he described as a “chameleon.” This is because of the way it subtly changes its color depending on how sunlight strikes it.

Il-76MD-90A
Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

Modification progress & traits

Unveiled by the Ulyanovsk Enterprise Aviastar-SP factory in 2011, a part of the UAC’s transport aircraft division, the Il-76MD-90A was a significant progression from its predecessor, the Il-76MD. This updated version boasts state-of-the-art flight and navigation systems, superior transport equipment, and innovative engine designs.  

Such advancements are visible in the PS-90A-76 engines, an enhanced chassis replete with a high-powered braking system, and digital onboard radio-electronic equipment with a screen indicator. These changes translate to an extended flying range and increased cargo-carrying capacity – practical improvements that greatly enhance the aircraft’s effectiveness. 

Built on the dependable chassis of the Il-76 freight plane, the Il-76MD-90A is an upgraded iteration of the Il-76MD. We got our first look at this prototype when it took to the skies for its maiden flight in September 2012, nine months after it was unveiled in December 2011.  

Russia initially had intentions to add nearly 40 new Ilyushin Il-76-MD-90A aircraft to its fleet by 2020. However, things did not pan out as planned. The first in-series Il-76MD-90A aircraft, with the serial number 0109, was only delivered to the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense in April 2019.  

Unmet production expectations led to dissatisfaction from the Russian Ministry of Defense, prompting an appeal to the manufacturer, Aviastar, to boost production volumes. By early 2021, only nine aircraft had rolled off the production line. However, there was a glimmer of hope. In October 2022, the UAC delivered an additional modernized Il-76MD-90A aircraft to the Russian Air Force.

Patriot destroyed missile using target designation provided by F-35
Photo by US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart

NYT affirms Patriot take-down of Il-76

In a report published on February 8th by The New York Times, anonymous sources stated that the Il-76 was indeed brought down by a Patriot missile. According to these sources, the missile unit was bequeathed to Ukraine by an unnamed “European partner” of the United States. 

The consensus among U.S. and Ukrainian officials seems to be that it is likely some of the passengers were Ukrainian captives, although Russia’s estimate of casualties may have been an overestimation. 

As for Ukraine’s part, it seems they acted on credible, yet misinformed intelligence. Evidently, the plane at one point had been used to carry missiles, which rendered it a high-priority target for Kyiv. This information is according to Western officials briefed on the intelligence.

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