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IL-76 Run



IL-76 Run

By Joe Thompson (14 February 2007)



Preface: Over a quarter century ago I participated in an Aeroflot sponsored tour of Russia, offered to the airline I was associated with at that time. Their reasoning, I suppose, was what better way to promote Russian tourism than to host foreign airline employees. And remember this was in the midst of the Cold War and Russia wasn't exactly a tourist magnet at the time. My trip was in February, and that in itself tells you something. There is nothing quite like a Russian winter. Napoleon found this out, and so did the German Wehrmacht in World War II. Even if you've been exposed to severe winters before, and I had, Russian winters give the word 'cold' a whole new meaning.


One thing that MSFS allows is a virtual revisit of places that one has previously been to in real life. And if one's imagination and powers of recollection are acute enough then sounds, smells, tastes, and even the sting of the brutal cold can be recalled with uncanny accuracy.


My virtual airline, Mercator, has a vast array of aircraft (over 80 at the present time) that our pilots can select from. Recently, we added another unique airframe to our inventory, the Ilyushin IL-76TD, NATO codename 'Candid.'


With all this in mind come along as I return to Russia and fly our newly acquired Ilyushin IL-76 'Candid.'


We took delivery of N7678MC, an IL-76TD, at the Tashkent Aircraft Production Facility in Uzbekistan in late November. Our technical personnel had worked long and hard with the Ilyushin representatives to 'upgrade' our aircraft to allow for a 4 person crew that would consist of a pilot, first officer, flight engineer, and loadmaster. The standard instrumentation in the cockpit was reconfigured to a western layout. Anyone familiar with Russian aircraft cockpits knows what this entails. Russian aircraft use a vastly different instrument layout, not only in terms of placement (the standard "T" arrangement isn't used) but also instrumentation is metric vice imperial units of measurement. We decided to use some Russian instruments on our panels e.g. flap indicator, AOA, ADI, and RMI, but the overall layout is primarily western gauges. This allows a much more rapid integration for our flight crews. And with the upgraded instruments we were able to eliminate the need for a flight deck radio operator and a navigator, perched in the nose dome, which is customary in quite a few Russian aircraft models.


The "TD", transportniy dahlniy (long-range transport), variant of the IL-76 was produced in the 1980's and fitted with the more powerful Soloviev D-30KP-2 turbojet, bypass, two-shaft, mixed flow engines, with thrust reversers, providing 12,500 kg / 27,560 lb. thrust. This engine, in an afterburner configuration, also powers the MiG-31 interceptors. Other D-30K engine variants power the Ilyushin IL-62M along with Tupolev's Tu-134A and Tu-154M aircraft. The 76TD also has larger fuel tanks, airframe reinforcements to handle higher takeoff weights, and various small changes. It retained the "Candid-A" codename. The aircraft also has a unique cargo handling system known as a telpher which is a rail mounted, electrically operated cargo handling dolly that runs along two rails mounted in the overhead of the cargo bay. Another interesting feature is that the aircraft can be quickly converted to a passenger configuration by fitting a set of modules (up to a maximum of three) in the cargo bay. The modules are based on standard cargo containers; each 6.1 meters (20 feet) long and 2.4 meters (8 feet) wide and each can accommodate 30 passengers, seated four abreast, giving a total passenger load of 120.


The IL-76 is extremely rugged, as are most Russian built aircraft. It can operate from prepared or unprepared airfields. Mercator's airframes have an empty weight of 197,313 lbs and are fitted with 5 internal fuel tanks capability of holding a total of 193,036 lbs of fuel. Our aircraft have a maximum payload capacity of 110,231 lbs with a maximum Zero Fuel Weight (MZFW) of 370,000 lbs from a prepared field and 330,000 lbs from an unprepared field. Our Max Takeoff Weight (MTOW) from a prepared field is 418,878 lbs and 379,878 lbs from an unprepared one. Maximum Landing Weights (MLW) are 334,000 and 299,000 lbs for prepared and unprepared fields respectively. The IL-76 flies in a multitude of configurations: basic cargo aircraft; troop, paratroop and passenger transport; ECM and Special Command Post aircraft; VIP transport; aerial refueler; test & evaluation platform and even as a water bomber for forest fires. All in all they are rugged, dependable workhorses that are used around the world including the Arctic and Antarctica.


After training at Tashkent we ferried our assigned aircraft to Moscow's Domodedovo Airport (DME/UUDD). Mercator's strategic plans called for pre-positioning IL-76 aircraft in several eastern and western European airports, in the Middle East, in the sub-Indian continent and the Far East, primarily for cargo. We had no sooner arrived in Moscow and checked in with our Phoenix dispatch center when they alerted us to a cargo contract. A new client required a heavy lift/out-sized cargo capability from the Estonia port of Tallinn to several Russian sites. Gazprom is the largest Russian company and the biggest extractor of natural gas in the world. They supply almost all the gas needs of central and Eastern Europe, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Apart from its gas reserves and the world's longest pipeline network it also controls assets in banking, insurance, media, construction and agriculture. They had miscellaneous equipment and a couple of oversized gas scrubber units that needed transport and the IL-76TD was the perfect platform to perform the task.






The initial load out would be in Tallinn, Estonia (TLL/EETN - N59.4 E024.8) and this cargo would then be hauled east across the Ural Mountains to Surgut, Siberia (SGC/USRR - N61.3 E073.4). From Surgut we would transit southeastward to Novosibirsk, Siberia and land at Tolmachevo Airport (OVB/UNNT - N55.0 E082.6). The third leg would carry us back westward to Rostov-Na-Dona (ROV/URRR - N47.3 E039.8). Finally we would fly northwestward back to Moscow and recover at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport (VKO/UUWW). From Tallinn the total run was approximately 4,500 nm. We were told that RON's (Remain over Night) would be required in Surgut and Rostov. As long as the motel accommodations were adequate - sometimes a hit-or-miss proposition in the outreaches of Siberia - we didn't really care about enroute delays. I, for one, have always been a geography buff, and any extra time in a new place gives me the opportunity to explore.






After a pleasant flight over to Tallinn we blocked in and were whisked away to our hotel and were very pleased with the accommodations. The Hotel Ulemiste is conveniently located in the city of Tallinn at beautiful Lake Ulemiste and is next to the airport. We got a good nights sleep because 'show time' the following morning was set for 0500 local with a push anticipated for approximately 0745.


The morning weather was a considerable improvement over the low scud and reduced visibility we had on our arrival from Moscow the evening before. The wind was gusty out of the west, but VIS was OK. Tallinn was using runway 26 this morning, as it usually does. We were setup for a BURSI 2C departure that would loop us south of the city thence a track just south of Saint Petersburg across the northern reaches of eastern Russia, then across the Ural Mountains into Surgut on the banks of the Ob' River. The gas scrubber units and associated equipment we would carry weighted in at just under 100,000 lbs and with an Estimated Time Enroute (ETE) of 3.7 hour our fuel load was 48,500 lbs. With everything aboard and ready to taxi we weighted in at 345,000 lbs.


After completing the ubiquitous paperwork, we walked out to the aircraft which was still in the process of being loading. As the sun started to peek over the eastern horizon large crates cast long shadows on the tarmac just aft of the load ramp. Sergei Portnov, our Russian loadmaster, had been busy at work for quite some time and adroitly operated the overhead cargo dolly filling the cavernous cargo deck. As we ascended the starboard crew ladder Sergei greeted us with his typical big grin and assured us he would be ready to button up in 20 minutes. Along with Sergei, my crew consisted of First Officer Ted Nash and Flight Engineer Curtis Holt. We were all new to the IL-76 except Sergei, who had several thousand hours in type. When offered the Mercator position, Sergei was a loadmaster flying the same aircraft for Silk Way Airlines, a cargo outfit based in Baku, Azerbaijan.


Once aboard we ascended the ladder to the flight deck and settled in. After personal gear was stowed, we set up the flight deck and then commenced the pre-start checklists. The Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) was already humming in the background and we soon had the cockpit configured, ATIS copied and our clearance to Surgut. In a few minutes we heard the cargo ramp close, the panel warning light extinguished and Sergei appeared on the flight deck to tell us he was ready to go. We got permission to start and soon had all four Soloviev engines online. Ted, flying this first leg, jockeyed the throttles forward just enough to break the ground friction and get the heavily laden aircraft moving, then retarded the throttles to give us a nice taxi speed. Soon we took the active and takeoff power was set. The engines belched out long ribbons of black smoke and the aircraft started to move down runway 26. As we roared down the runway, I sang out my well worn cadence of "Airspeed Alive," "Eight knots," "Vee One," and at 138 KIAS "Rotate" then "Vee Two". Climb power was set, flaps were retracted, landing light secured and Ted began a climbing left turn to put us on a downwind track to the runway we had just departed. Soon we engaged the autopilot and started our climb to our cruise altitude of 10,100 meters.






Flying in Russian airspace is unlike flying in other areas. First and foremost is the use of the metric system. This always requires a slight climb or descent from assigned cruising flight level to the corresponding metric level when entering or departing Russian airspace. On this trip we would still be climbing when we entered Russian airspace. However, once we leveled off at our assigned flight level the altimeters would be pointing at a little over 33,100 ft. Another Russian airspace anomaly is the scarcity of VOR's and the abundance of NDB's. If you've ever looked at a Russian aeronautical chart you'd notice very few VOR's but NDB's would appear scattered all over the chart face. On this leg to Surgut, which is 1,460 NM's we have exactly two (02) VOR's on our track and four (04) NDB's with the remainder of the navigational waypoints consisting of intersections.






We finally reached our assigned altitude and Curtis reset the power for cruise flight. I peeled off my fleece vest I had worn as an extra precaution against the cold morning air. As we motored eastward we were handed from one control center to the next in a daisy chain that would take us from Estonia to the western marshy area of Siberia. From Tallinn Center we were passed to Saint Petersburg Center, then Vologoda, Kotlas, Syktyvkar, and on it went. And one thing that becomes readily apparent flying over vast portions of Russia is the bleakness. There seems to be little, if anything, below and you have to keep reminding yourself of the sheer magnitude of the country. From western border to eastern border, Russia contains eleven (11) time zones. It's a huge area that seems even larger from the air.






Eventually we were cleared to descend and after some minor vectoring we were cleared to land on Surgat's (SGC/USRR) runway 07. Ted got us configured up and made a nice landing. We were soon off the active runway and taxiing in. The light was already fading fast as we taxied by a group of people gathered on the ramp to welcome our arrival. Then finally, we were parked, blocked and shut down. The flight time had been 3 hours 48 minutes. Even before we hauled our gear down the crew ladder Sergei had the overhead crane busy at work off loading the cargo. As we walked to the cargo office the ambient temperature (-20 Celsius/-4 Fahrenheit) pierced right through my body. And this was only early December, what would it be like when winter actually arrived?






Accommodations in Surgut were not as lavish as in Tallinn but still nice. Located along the Ob' River in the West Siberian Plain, Surgut was founded in 1594. It is one of the oldest Siberian cities and has a population of around 300,000. In the 1960s, it became a center of oil and gas production and its economy is tied to oil production and the processing of natural gas. With Sergei as our 'official' Russian interpreter, tour guide, and governmental liaison we were always guaranteed not to embarrass ourselves too badly, either in the workplace or ordering a meal in a restaurant.






The next morning saw another 0500 local show time. The weather enroute to Novosibirsk would not be too bad, with a low ceiling and snow showers forecast for our arrival. Out of Surgut we would haul a 77,000 lbs. payload and with an ETE of 1.7 hours our fuel load was 28,500 lbs. That put our TOW right around 303,000 lbs. Once again we were greeted at the aircraft by Sergei who had things well in hand on our arrival. With gear and cargo stowed we were soon taking the active for takeoff. This was my leg to fly and with clearance in hand I goosed up the throttles and called "Set Takeoff power" as Curtis jockeyed the throttles to their exact position for the computed takeoff settings. The normal takeoff mantra was heard, this time from Ted in the right seat. Soon we reached rotation speed and I began a gentle aft pull on the yoke. After clearing the runway and a positive rate of climb was established the gear was brought up and flaps retracted on schedule. I banked right to intercept our southeasterly heading towards Novosibirsk. The morning sunlight soon started to stream through the cockpit windscreen and it felt good on the face. This segment was only 485 NM in length but the only VOR on the entire track was at our destination. Once again it was NDB's and intersections all the way. After our semi-short time enroute we were vectored down and turned on final for runway 07. The visibility was reported as 6,000 meters in snow with a temperature of - 13 Celsius/+9 Fahrenheit. Darn, it's almost balmy down there!


I planted her right on the touchdown point and as the nose was lowered the reversers were employed. The loud shrieks of the D-30KP engines were very distinct on the flight deck, but we soon slowed and turned off the active. Flaps and ground spoilers were retracted and we were cleared in to our spot. The snow was very light at this point. There were several large snowdrifts around the perimeter of the parking area indicating that they had had some significant snow recently. Before we left they would get even more.


Novosibirsk (OVB/UNNT) is the third largest city in Russia behind Moscow and Saint Petersburg and the largest city in Siberia and the administrative center of the Siberian Federal District. It was founded in 1893 as the future site of the Trans-Siberian railway bridge crossing the great Siberian River Ob, along which it lies. Its importance further increased early in the 20th century with the completion of the Turkestan-Siberia Railway connecting Novosibirsk to Central Asia and the Caspian Sea.






Ground time was scheduled to be minimal. Offload, on load, fuel, get a weather brief, get our clearance, a quick check of NOTAMs, perfunctory hello's (privyet) and good-bye's (dosvidaniya) to local officials and hopefully off in under two hours. Sergei was a true maestro with the cargo and by noon we were strapped in and starting engines. The weather had worsened considerably while we sat on the deck. It was now snowing heavily with about 2 miles of visibility and a low overcast. I was flying the next leg too so it was my 'privilege' to hurl us off into this abysmal weather. The wind had now backed around out of the west and we were cleared for takeoff from runway 25. By the time we got on the active and lined up the visibility had dropped to a mile. We were ready to go, so I powered up and released the brakes. We came off the blocks at 360,000 lbs for this leg and rotation would be 142 KIAS. At the computed speed Ted called "Rotate" and as I flew us off the runway it was like looking into a ball of cotton. The transition from seeing faint runway edge lighting in my peripheral vision to seeing no outside reference at all was almost instantaneous once the deck angle was about 5 degrees. I concentrated on the gauges while Ted took care of the flaps and gear and made the appropriate radio calls. Curtis was busy resetting our power. Then everything reversed as we climbed through 9,000 feet AGL. The flat light in the cockpit was suddenly replaced with brilliant sunlight as we climbed on top of the undercast and headed for our cruise altitude.


Flight time was scheduled to be a little over 5 hours and we had loaded 63,500 lbs of fuel to cover the segment. Sergei entered the flight deck and took the jump seat behind me. We talked about his native country and his life in Russian aviation to pass the time as we flew westward. I told him I had taken Russian in college but had done rather poorly in the subject. It had been a real struggle. I also told him about trying to speak Russian to some locals in Tbilisi during one of my tour stops back in the 80's and being rebuffed rather briskly and reminded that they were Georgian and not Russian. Sergei chuckled and said he understood. Nationalism was and is a huge driving force in Russia and now in the Commonwealth states as well.


This segment took us southwest from Novosibirsk across the top of Kazakhstan. We would skirt the northern shore of the Caspian Sea, crossing the delta area formed by the outflow of the mighty Volga River, pass south of Volgograd and then let down and approach Rostov (ROV/URRR) from the east. Rostov-on-Don, was in essence established in 1749, as a customs house built on the Don River, and soon a large fortress followed. The mouth of the Don River has been of great commercial and cultural importance since the ancient times. The river is a major shipping lane connecting southwestern Russia with regions to the north, and Rostov-on-Don is an important river port in both passenger-oriented and industrial shipping. The Don flows past Rostov-on-Don and just to the west of the city (25nm) empties into the Sea of Azov which in turn is open to the Black Sea.


It was a nice flight with little radio traffic, and most of it was in Russian (even though English is the official language of aviation, nationalism seems to take precedence in many areas of the world). The cockpit was cozy and I pushed my seat back a few clicks and peered at my well-worn Atlas I carry on all my flights. I commented about the proliferation of "Stan" countries in this area of the world - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. "Anyone know the significance of the 'stan'?" I asked. Sergei told us "The 'Stan' comes from the old Iranian root, sta, the word for "to stand" or "stay." It means the place where one stays such as a homeland or country." He went on to tell us that names, like Afghanistan, Hindustan, Pakistan derive from the plural name of the people living in those areas, Afghanistan means 'land or home of the Afghani people.'






We finally started down and the Rostov ATIS was reporting a light wind out of the west with 7,000 meters visibility and locally low scattered clouds. And the temperature was a scorching 6 Celsius / 43 Fahrenheit. Traffic was light. We got a straight-in lineup and soon I was flaring 78MC over the aiming spot and then lowering the nose to the runway. We turned off and shortly came to rest at our assigned stand. Even as we unbuckled and did our housekeeping chores on the flight deck, we could hear the massive cargo doors opening and the ramp grinding down into place. Sergei was hard at work already. We blocked in at 1426 local. We logged 5.4 hours enroute from Novosibirsk and we had the entire afternoon to ourselves to explore the local environs. Naturally, we would wait on our 'tour guide' Sergei, but he made short-order of the offload. Soon we had cleared airport officialdom and were in the minivan headed to our hotel.


This stop was another over nighter. Our clients had put us up in the very nice Rostov Hotel on Budionovsky Avenue right in the city center, but still only 4 miles from the airport. After checking in and grabbing a quick shower, we all met in the lobby and Sergei took us out to see the sights. The day was completed with a very nice meal in the Tsentral'nyi Restaurant where we ate such local fare as "Rostov sturgeon." By 2100 local we were back at our hotel for an early night. Tomorrow, our last day 'on the road' had another early show time.






The early morning wake-up call came too early. Along with it came the anticipation of finishing the contract and getting back to Moscow. The final leg would take us out of Rostov to the northwest and as we climbed to altitude we would pass over the eastern edge of Ukraine, re-enter Russia and take a almost due northerly track to Moscow. We would recover at Vnukovo Airport (VKO/UUWW), southwest of the city center. The morning was cold and after going through our pre-boarding rituals with paperwork, forecasts, NOTAMs, flight plans and what-have-you we were settled in and setting up the cockpit like we wanted. Gear bags stowed, charts readied, headsets plugged in, and the myriad of other little housekeeping chores that makes the flight deck an efficient office. Like so many times before we were soon on our way to the active. Runway 27 was still in use and the visibility was good. We would takeoff and then perform a gradual right hand climbing turn over the River Don to intercept our outbound track to the north. Within minutes we were cleared for takeoff and Ted, as the pilot flying, pushed up the throttles and called for takeoff power. We were loaded this morning with over 110,000 lbs of cargo and with 28,000 lbs of fuel we were taking off weighting over 335,000 lbs. We anticipated around two hours enroute to Moscow.






Soon Rostov-on-Don slid down our starboard side and we then turned northward. As was the case on most of our trip legs this one, 552 NM in length, consisted of NDB's and intersections on track, but not one VOR. Eventually we leveled at our assigned altitude and settled in for the short trip. We eventually reached the point known as the Top of Descent (TOD) and with power reset headed back to earth. Fortunately, we weren't required to fly a convoluted Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR) and after a couple confusing vectors we were motoring down the centerline for runway 24. Then it was over, we were on our stand and secured. The aircraft sat eerily silent except for muffled clamor back aft of cargo unloading.


We climbed down the ladder with our gear in tow and in a minute or so a vehicle arrived to take us to the Cargo Manager's office. He greeted us in broken English and handed us a message from our dispatch office. It welcomed us back to Moscow and informed us that Aeroflot had signed a cargo contract with us and in two days, Ted, Curtis, Sergei and I would load this same aircraft up and fly to Havana, Cuba. We had completed a two day cargo haul that covered 4,500 nm. We had put 13.1 hours on the airframe and our own frames. We now had two days to rest, do some laundry, perhaps a little sightseeing and then start another adventure. There always seemed to be another adventure. Of course, it would be a lot warmer in Cuba than it was right now in Russia.



Aircraft Model:
By Varnavskiy Sergey. Mercator repaint by the author. Available at http://www.flymercator.com/LineJets.htm


By the author, available at http://www.flymercator.com/LinePanels.htm


Russian Terminal Charts:

Worldwide Enroute Charts:



If you enjoyed the article or have comments please let me hear from you. I always look forward to your feedback.


Joe Thompson

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