First Russian made IL-78 tanker takes off

An improved version of the Russian Ilyushin IL-78M aerial refueling tanker aircraft has completed maiden flight on Thursday.

The aircraft took off from Aviastar's final assembly line in Ulyanovsk, Russia and was airborne for 35 minutes, lead by Ilyushin Chief Pilot Nikolai Kuimov.

The upgraded version designated IL-78M-90A, is based on the IL-76MD-90A airlifter platform featuring a modified wing, new engines, latest Russian avionics and control systems and increased internal fuel capacity.

This aircraft is the first aerial refueling tanker manufactured in Russia in the post-Soviet period, as earlier IL-78 were manufactured by the Tashkent plant in Uzbekistan.

Equipped with the newly developed Zvezda UPAZ-1M refueling pods utilizing hose and drogue refueling technique, the IL-78M-90A can refueling three aircraft.

The two outer wing pylon mounted refueling units are designed to refuel fighter jets, while the third installed on the right side of the rear fuselage is designed to refuel long range strategic bombers as they require higher fuel flow rate.

Powering the tanker is four higher thrust PS-90A-76 high bypass turbofan engines, replacing the D-30K turbojet engines. The engine sports 25 per cent increase in thrust, producing 157 kN (16000 kgf) per engine. It is also 12-14 percent more fuel efficient, along with lower emissions and noise and improved reliability.

The aircraft is equipped with modern flight control and navigation systems, latest communication systems and an advanced glass cockpit replacing the analogue dials, which overall reduce crew workload and enhance flight safety.

Like its western analogues, the aircraft can also quickly configured for troop and cargo transport roles on the ground.