|Il-96-400T freighter VASO Copyright|
Russia has commenced flight trials of its new longer range aerial refueling tanker based on the Il-96-400T commercial freighter aircraft.
The Il-96-400TZ will be capable of carrying a 65 tonne fuel payload with a range of 3,500 km, compared to the 40 tonne capacity and 3000 km range of the present Il-78M tanker. It can also be reconfigured to carry cargo and troops.
Initial trials involved refueling fighter jets, which will be expanded to larger aircraft like the Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers.
The aircraft is equipped with Zvezda UPAZ-1 aerial refueling system, which is also used by the Russian Air Force Il-78M tanker-transport fleet.
When deployed in air, the hose is about 26 m long and can transfer fuel at a rate of up to 2300 l/min.
The system include two pods mounted on either wings for refueling smaller fighter jets and a fuselage aft mounted pod for refueling larger aircraft.
In 2015, Russian Defense ministry had signed a contract with the Voronezh-based aircraft manufacturer VASO to manufacture two prototype for flight trials. The second aircraft is scheduled to fly in 2018.
If the trails are successful, Russian Defense ministry will place an order for up to 30 aircraft.
The Soviet era Il-96 was designed as wide-body passenger jet by VASO in the 1980s. Only 30 aircraft were produced, with majority operated by Rossiya Airlines.
It is powered by four Aviadvigatel PS-90A1 turbofan engines.