We have reported in the past months on the need for a reliable replacement of the aging Antonov 124 freighter which among others in in use with Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group and the Russian
military. The aircraft, although still very reliable, has almost reached the end of its operational lifespan. Antonov is said to be working hard on trying to gain support for the design and
production of a new giant freighter.
Now it seems that Ilyushin may beat them to the post.
Reports out this week in Russia show that Russia’s Ilyushin aircraft manufacturing company which over the past four to five decades has designed and produced a variety of turbo-propeller and jet engine powered passenger and freighter aircraft, may now well be in the lead to offer the military, space agency and even Volga-Dnepr and other heavy-lift specialists a new giant freighter in the future.
The Ilyushin IL-96 is a large passenger aircraft which has not attracted enough customers outside of Russia. It is also used as the official state aircraft used to transport Russian president around the world.
It seems that the plans are to produce a heavy-weight freighter version of the IL-96 which would be able to transport loads of up to 150 tons over a distance of more than 7,000 kilometers. To achieve this, Ilyushin would need to further widen the already large body and increase the length somewhat in order to make it an attractive replacement for the venerable AN-124 transporter.
The project which has been dubbed as the IL-96-500T Elephant, seems to be well under way on the drawing board. An illustration published by Ilyushin shows the aircraft as having somewhat the same design as the Airbus Beluga transporter which the Toulouse manufacturer uses to transport Airbus wings and other components between different manufacturing locations in Europe.
Development costs kept to a minimum
There is not the need to plan and manufacture an entire new aircraft. The IL-96 is being used as the basic body and the plan is to develop the main cabin along the same lines as the AN-126 with special loading ramps, winches and tie-down equipment suitable for extra heavy single loads. In this respect, development costs can be kept to a minimum.
The military aspect is also it seems of importance. The Russian military also operates AN-124s, but these will have to be replaced some time soon as it seems that there is no hope that Russia and the Ukraine will see eye-to-eye in the future. The IL-96-500T could be the ideal replacement and also be of use for carrying rocket parts for the Russian space programme.
According to a report in Russia’s Tass news agency, there are plans to deliver six aircraft to the military and four to Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. Delivery should start during 2026. It has so far not been revealed as to when and how commercial variants will be available.
However, one can assume that Volga-Dnepr has made it clear to Ilyushin that they want to be part of the game.
John Mc Donagh