Ilyushin Desert Trip

Arrival of the big ship!

The company I work for in Libya had a need to fly some electric motors to Dresden Germany. We called our local shipping agency, and ended up getting an Ilyushin 76 out of the Ukraine. This aircraft was of course an ex-military plane, which was converted to a private cargo aircraft after the break up of the USSR.

The aircraft had a cargo capacity of 40 000 kg (88 000 lbs.), and an all up ramp weight of 190 000 kg (419 000 lbs.). Our cargo ended up weighing in at 49 000 kg (108 000 lbs.), so the crew had to trade some fuel for cargo. It turns out the plane weighs close to 95 000 kg (209 000 lbs.) empty, and can carry up to 90 000 kg (198 000 lbs.) of fuel, which would not leave much for cargo. The pilot was planning on taking on 38 000 kg (84 000 lbs.) of fuel for the flight home, so he was still a little under gross. The planned fuel burn is 9000 kg (20 000 lbs.) per hour. Iím always amazed by these numbers considering the Piper I fly burns around 50 lbs. per hour!

Me in front of the Ilyushin IL76 shortly after loading had started.

After we spend approximately one week arranging for all the landing permissions to be in place, the plane was ready to make itís way from the Ukraine to Libya. Amazingly, the paper work wasnít too bad for the Libyan entrance, but getting the landing permissions in Germany seemed to be the hardest part of the whole process. The flying time to our site was 3 hours and 50 minutes, with a stop over in Benghazi (Libya) to clear customs and pick up some fuel. We are located approximately 500 km south of Benghazi out in the middle of the desert. The plane landed at 1600 hrs at our location, and of course most of our staff had to come out and see the plane, after all, an event like this does not happen every day.

After we finally got the plane pointed in the right direction (not an easy task, considering all the noise the plane made, and only one guy from the aircraft crew spoke English), we started our loading process. We first loaded a piece of equipment that weighed approximately 2500 kg (5500 lbs.). This turned out to be very easy, as the plane had overhead cranes, that could carry a total weight of 10 000 kg (22 000 lbs.). All the electrical power for the planeís equipment came from itís auxiliary power unit, which like most military equipment, was very loud, making the loading more difficult with respect to communication. After loading a couple more small items, that totaled about 5000 kg (11 000 lbs.), it was time to load our large cargo. This cargo happened to be a 7000 kW (9400 hp) electric motor that weighed in at 27 000 kg (59 500 lbs.). It was a very interesting piece of equipment to load. We utilized an ancient flat bed truck rig truck to help with the loading process. This truck was built by Kenworth especially for the desert, it has six wheel drive (each wheel is about 5 ft tall), and a deck height of 7 ft. We needed the height to match up to the ramp of the aircraft to ensure there would be a smooth transition for the load.

Notice the remains of the tail turret at the top of the photo!


To pull the load off of the truck, we used the two onboard tugging winches, that were rated at 25 000 kg (55 000 lbs.) each, and 4 inch pipes for the motor to roll on (ala pyramid construction techniques). After this, we had one more large motor, only 2400 kW (3200 hp) this time, and a mass of 14 500 kg (32 000 lbs.). We used the same method of loading as the larger motor. The whole time we were loading, the co-pilot was checking and rechecking the CG calculations. I found it interesting, as the charts were the same as we use, with the exception that it was in Russian. The total cargo hold on the plane was 20 m (65 ft) long, plus 4.4m (14 ft) for the loading ramp, and we used every bit of it. We even had to store a 1400 kg (3000 lbs.) box on the loading ramp. It took 5 hours to load all the equipment on board, and another hour to prepare the aircraft for the night. One of the final tasks for the night was to close the tail of the airplane. This was very interesting; the way each piece fitted together.

While the plane was being loaded, I had a chance to talk to the only English speaking person on board. He had many horror stories about the state of affairs the Ukraine, and especially the poor state of the aviation industry. I guess there is only one flight training school; located in Kiev, and the government canít afford to send anyone to the school, so there are many airplanes in the country just sitting around rotting, due to lack of pilots, and funds. I was taken on a tour of the plane, and the only thing I didnít get to see (but really wanted to) was the tail gun turret. The guns have been removed, but the gun turret remained. This particular plane was designed for submarine hunting. It had all the sonar equipment removed, but still had four radar stations on board. Even though this plane was relatively new (built in the 80s), the radar looked like something you would see in a museum. It was the style that you had to put your face right into to see anything. I was told that two of them were weather radar, but no one would tell me what the other two were for! I watched the navigator calculate out their flight home, and after half an hour on this thing he called a navigation computer, he had all his courses and distances calculated. I have never in my life seen anything like this, and I would never have believed it. Seeing this computer is the only way to really believe it! So after half an hour on this computer, he checked his results on a Garmin 95. This took him all of 5 minutes! The Garmin was interesting as well, as all the characters on the screen were Russian. I would love to have one of these, purely for the conversation value. The navigation computer then sent the results up to the pilot and co-pilot, giving them the course to steer. These were very large displays in the cockpit, and there is no way you could miss them. The computer also fed the results into the autopilot. The flight deck looked like many others if you didnít look too close. It was located directly above the navigators, by about 6 feet. On the flight deck, there is a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and a radio operator. Of course there must be a thousand switches, all marked in Russian, so I had no idea what any of them were.

Cockpit-note the radar on copilotís side.


The outside of the plane had itís own interesting features; two of the main tires (eight per side), were so bald that there were belts showing, and in one tireís case, the belts were worn through. No need to worry though, as the plane carried a spare nose tire, a spare main wheel and tire, and two spare main tires. I guess the money is so tight that the crew is not to change a tire until it blows out! Seemed a little strange to me considering the amount of weight they are carrying, and size of the plane. One other thing that was interesting was that at one time it appears that they lost two washers on the radar dome, so they used two beer caps that they had drilled through as replacements. It appeared that these beer caps had been on the plane a long time, so they must have been approved for air use! Really though the plane did seem airworthy, and I did expect far worse coming out of the Eastern Block. I snooped through the control system etc., and it all looked in very good shape, and seemed to be over designed. This plane definitely was designed for the purpose of carrying large cargo. It appeared as though during construction, no one was too concerned about the weight, as everything was built very solid. The whole plane looked to be constructed in a way that would be very easy to maintain.

Plane fully loaded


The next morning, some of the crew was taken back to the plane at around 0430 hrs, to finish securing the load. The rest of the crew arrived at 0530 hrs to ready the plane for take off. It took 1.5 hours to preflight the plane. As they were taxiing the plane out for take off, I found it amazing how tight of a turning radius the plane had, as the nose wheels appeared to be at a 90-degree angle to the fuselage. Once again, typical military, the plane was very noisy, and had the usual howl of low bypass turbines. Since we are in the desert, once they started the take off roll, down the 3 km (9800 ft) runway, they seemed to have a major sand storm following them. The plane was less than half way down the runway when it rotated, and immediately lifted off, and it climbed out very well. It sure looked like they had lots of power to spare. We all expected to see the plane lumber down the runway, struggle into the air, and spend some time in ground effect. The pilots told me they wanted to leave early in the morning, as they were worried about the density altitude. When the plane landed the day before, the temperature was around 42 C. No problem this morning though, as it was a perfect 15 C when they left at 0700 hrs.

It was lots of work to get the plane loaded, but I found the whole event very interesting and informative (as you can tell). I told everyone that things like this just donít happen every day to a Canadian prairie boy!

Just lifting off!

Shortly after takeoff!


She's creating her own sand storm on the runway.

Tires mentioned in the above story.

Who needs aerodynamic washers?  Bottle caps will work fine, thanks.