Design and development
The aircraft was first conceived by Ilyushin in 1967 to meet a requirement for a freighter able to carry a payload of 40 tons (88,000 lb) over a range of 5,000 km (2,700 nmi; 3,100 mi) in less than six hours, able to operate from short and unprepared airstrips, and capable of coping with the worst weather conditions likely to be experienced in Siberia and the Soviet Union's Arctic regions. It was intended to replace the Antonov An-12. Another intended version was a double-decked 250-passenger airliner but that project was cancelled. The Il-76 first flew in March 1971 .
Production of Il-76s was allocated to the Tashkent Aviation Production Association in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then a republic of the Soviet Union. Some 860 of the basic transport variants were manufactured. In the 1990s, modernized variants also equipped with Soloviev D-30 turbofan engines, were developed (MF, TF), with a cargo compartment 20 m long by 3.4 m wide by 3.4 m tall; these larger variants were not produced in significant quantity due to the financial difficulties being experienced by the Russian Air Force, which was the primary operator of the type. The prototype of the Il-76MF, conducted its first flight on 1 August 1995.
From 2004 onwards, a number of aircraft in commercial service were modernized to the Il-76TD-90VD version; this involved the adoption of the newly developed PS-90 engine to comply with European noise limitations. In 2005, the People's Republic of China placed an order for 34 new Il-76MDs and four Il-78 tankers. In June 2013, Russian military export agency Rosoboronexport announced an order by China for 12 Il-76MD aircraft.
Landing gear of Ilushin Il-76
The Il-76 has also been modified into an airborne refuelling tanker, designated the Il-78, around 50 aircraft having been produced. A variant of the Il-76 also serves as a firefighting waterbomber. Its airframe was used as a base for the Beriev A-50 'Mainstay' AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) aircraft; around 25 aircraft were made. Another application for the type was found in Antarctic support flights and for conducting simulated weightlessness training for cosmonauts (akin to the "Vomit Comet" used by NASA). Beriev and NPO Almaz also developed an airborne laser flying laboratory designated A-60, of which two were built, much of this project's details remaining classified.
It was announced in 2010 that the production of a modernized Il-76, the Il-76MD-90A (also known as project Il-476 during the design stage), would begin; a proposed new production line would be located in Aviastar's facility in Ulyanovsk, Russia, and be operated in cooperation with the Tashkent works. At that point, the construction of two Il-76MD-90A prototypes had begun at the Ulyanovsk facility. The 1st serial production Il-76MD-90A was rolled out at Aviastar's Ulyanovsk plant on 16 June 2014. On 29 April 2015, it was reported that the Russian Air Force received the first Il-76MD-90A built at the Ulyanovsk plant "Aviastar-SP" from the 2012 contract for 39 aircraft.