The Russian Ministry of Defence announced on 8 January 2015 that it ordered the state-owned United Aircraft Corporation to produce two four-engine IL-96-400TZ tankers. The order means a small boost for the big aircraft designed by Ilyushin as wide-body airliners, since 29 of the type were produced since production began in the early 1990s.
The IL-96 is mostly known as the official Russian presidential ride, with this IL-96-300PU supplemented by 7 other versions within the government fleet and 2 in production. Cubana is the only remaining airliner flying the type, with 5 in service and 3 on order. Ilyushin holds one aircraft, making the total active fleet 14. Aeroflot replaced its IL-96s with ten Boeing 777-300s. The Russian flag-carrier retained a full Western produced fleet of Airbuses and Boeings until the arrival of the first of up to 50 Sukhoi Superjet 100 in 2011.
Receiving aircraft will be refuelled by the IL-96-400TZs with wing-mounted air-to-air refuelling pods. They will be able to deliver 65 tons of fuel and have a operational range of about 2,200 nautical miles (3,500 km).
The IL-96-400TZ order is the first step in the modernisation of the in-flight “gas company” of the Russian Air Force, which has currently only 20 Ilyushin IL-78s (“Midas”) on strength. That’s still a bleak number compared to the 450 tankers in the US Air Force’s active, reserve and Air National Guard fleets. Plans exist to replace the aging IL-78s – a derivative of the IL-76 strategic airlifter – in due course by a modified version of the much improved and new IL-76MD-90A.
© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger, including source information of the Russian Ministry of Defence