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Il-78M-90A (Il-476) is an advanced aerial refuelling tanker based on the Il-76MD-90А military transport aircraft. Equipped with an enhanced propulsion unit and modern avionics, the tanker can be used to provide aerial refuelling for the long-range, front-line and special mission aircraft.
Designed by Ilyushin Aviation Complex, the aircraft is being manufactured by Russian aircraft manufacturer Aviastar-SP, both part of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC).
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation signed a contact with UAC in 2013 to develop an advanced air-to-air refuelling tanker aircraft for use by the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), a new branch of the Russian Armed Forces.
Construction on the first prototype began in 2014 and its roll-out ceremony was held in November 2017. The prototype aircraft performed its maiden flight in January 2018. The ground tests for the aircraft were performed in May 2018. Ilyushin also conducted flight tests for the IL-78M-90A convertible refuelling aircraft in 2019.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation signed a contract with Aviastar-SP to manufacture and supply ten Il-78M-90A tanker aircraft, in December 2020.
Il-78M-90A design details
The Il-78M-90A aerial refuelling aircraft is 46.6m-long, 14.76m-high, and has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 220t. Its payload capacity has been increased to transport large volumes of fuel.
The wing assembly has been modified to incorporate two modern fuel tanks with a total capacity of 111,940l. The wing area and wing spans are 300m² and 50.5m respectively. The tanker accommodates six flight crew members.
The fuselage has a diameter of 4.8m and is configured to carry approximately 50,300l of fuel, while a large cargo ramp at the rear enables airdropping. The modular airframe can be converted to support other roles such as fire-fighting and cargo transportation.
The aircraft is outfitted with reinforced nose and main landing gear to support the increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW).
Refuelling capabilities of Il-78M-90A tanker
The Il-78M-90A refuelling aircraft carries a total of three UPAZ-1M hose and drogue aerial refuelling pods, two of which are mounted on the main wings and the remaining on the right side of rear fuselage. The fuel transfer capability of the UPAZ-1M pod is between 2,300l and 3,000l per minute.
The wing-mounted pods allow inflight refuelling of two frontline aircraft such as MiG-29/35 and Su-27/30/34/35 simultaneously using TNA-150M turbo-pump unit, while the rear-mounted pod allows for the refuelling of a long-range or special aviation aircraft.
The aircraft has the ability to refuel up to four aircraft simultaneously on land.
Cockpit and avionics
The Il-78M-90A refuelling tanker is equipped with a digital glass cockpit integrating multiple electronic flight instrument displays and modern computer systems, which reduce the crew workload and enhance mission safety.
The tanker also features modern flight control and navigation systems, advanced communication systems and an automatic control system.
Engines and performance of Il-78M-90A aircraft
Perm Engine Company (PMZ) signed a contract with UAC to supply four PS-90A-76 two-shaft turbofan engines for the Il-78M-90A refuelling tanker, in August 2013. Each engine produces a maximum thrust of 16,000kgf. The engines are 12% to 14% more fuel-efficient than the D-30KP engines fitted on earlier modifications of aerial fuelling tankers.
Compliant with Chapter 4 of Annex 16 of the ICAO noise standard, the engine offers reduced fuel consumption and noise than the earlier version of engines fitted to the baseline aircraft.
The aircraft has a maximum speed of 600km/h-850km/h and can reach a maximum altitude of 13,100m.