Ilyushin Il-78

An Il-78M of the Russian Air Force
Role Inflight refuelling tanker
Manufacturer Ilyushin
First flight 26 June 1983
Introduction 1984 (Il-78)
Status Active, in production
Primary users Russian Air Force
Ukrainian Air Force
Indian Air Force
People's Liberation Army Air Force
Produced 1984–present
Number built 53[1]
Developed from Ilyushin Il-76

The Ilyushin Il-78 (NATO reporting name Midas) is a Soviet four-engined aerial refuelling tanker based on the Il-76.

Design and development

IL-78M from 203rd Guards Air Refuelling Regiment

The Il-76 tanker was conceived as long ago as 1968, but the transferable fuel load for the initial version was only ten tonnes, which was insufficient, so development was shelved. When the higher performance Il-76 became available the tanker project was restarted in 1982 as the Il-78.

In addition to the increased fuel load of the late model Il-76, the Il-78 has two removable 18,230-liter fuel tanks installed in the freight hold, giving transferable loads of 85,720 kg (188,980 lb) (with hold tanks) or 57,720 kg (127,250 lb) (without). Controlled from the gunner station, which is stripped of military equipment, three aircraft can refuel in flight simultaneously from the UPAZ-1A (Il-78) / UPAZ-1M (IL-78M) 26m refuelling pods fitted to the outer wings and rear fuselage. In addition, four aircraft can also be refuelled on the ground using conventional refuelling hoses extending from the freight hold. Because of the aircraft's high all-up weight after takeoff, which in an emergency would mean landing at weights well in excess of maximum allowable landing weight, the Il-78 has a fuel jettison system with jettison ports at the wingtips.

Russian IL-78 Midas cockpit

Soon after the Il-78 passed acceptance tests in 1984, Ilyushin was instructed to design and produce an upgraded version to be known as Il-78M. The Il-78M is a dedicated tanker and cannot be converted back to the transport role easily. Adding a third freight hold tank increased transferable fuel to 105,720 kg (233,070 lb) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) to 210,000 kg (460,000 lb), necessitating reinforcement of the wing torsion box. UPAZ-1M refuelling pods improved maximum fuel flow to 2,900 l/min [2] (638 Imp gal/min). Because the Il-78M is not "convertible", all cargo handling equipment was removed and cargo doors were deleted, saving approximately 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) in structural weight.

Early versions of the Il-78 have the fuselage pod mounted on a short horizontal pylon, but the Il-78M has the fuselage pod suspended from an identical pylon to the wing pods, attached to a short stub wing. This modification was served to isolate the pod from turbulence generated by the fuselage, with the added benefit of commonality with the wing pod/pylon combination. Some Il-78s were produced with Aeroflot colours and civilian registrations, but production Il-78Ms received military markings, registration and colour scheme.

The majority of the twenty Il-78 aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force have been permanently converted to pure transports, freight hold tanks and refuelling equipment being removed.

Operational history

All Russian Air Force Il-78s are now part of the special 203rd "Orlovski" Regiment of aerial tankers, based at Dyagilevo Air Force Base.


The Il-78 was the original production version with two removable fuselage tanks and a maximum transferable load of 85.72 tonnes (188,540 lb).
Alternative designation for Il-78 due to retention of all cargo handling equipment and convertible freight hold.[3]
The Il-78M entered service in 1987 as a dedicated tanker equipped with three permanent fuselage tanks, a higher gross weight of 210 tons, and no cargo door or cargo handling equipment. The cargo ramp is retained but non-functional. Total fuel capacity is 138 tonnes (303,600 lb), of which 105.7 tonnes (232,540 lb) is transferable.[4]
Il-78M-90A (Il-478)
Based on the Il-76MD-90A. Prototype will be delivered to 2015.[5]
Export version of Il-78M.
Customized variant of the Il-78ME for the Indian Air Force. These Uzbekistan-built planes are fitted with Israeli fuel transfer systems and can refuel six-eight Sukhoi Su-30MKIs in one mission.[6][7]
Multi-role aerial refuelling tanker/transport aircraft, with removable fuel tanks in cargo hold and UPAZ refuelling pods, for the Pakistan Air Force,[8][9] and Chinese Air Force.[10]


An Ilyushin Il-78 simulating aerial refuelling with a Tu-95MS during the Victory Day Parade in Moscow on 9 May 2009.
IAF's Ilyushin Il-78 provides mid-air refueling to two Mirage 2000 fighter planes.
Il-78MKI in service with the Indian Air Force
A Pakistan Air Force Il-78 at Istanbul Atatürk Airport in 2013.

As of March 2009, more than 34 Il-78s were in operation.[1]

 United States

Refuelling Capability

Transferable Fuel Load in t[19][20][21]
Distance Il-78 Il-78M
1000 km 42 74
2000 km 24 56
3000 km 15 40

Specifications (Il-78M)

Data from Ilyushin,[22] UAC,[23]

General characteristics


See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era



  1. 1 2 "Il-78 Production Numbers". AeroTransport Data Bank.
  3. IL-78 Midas Air-to-Air Refuelling / Transport Aircraft, Russia
  4. Gordon, Yefim; Kommissarov, Dmitriy (2002). Ilyushin Il-76, Russia's Versatile Airlifter. Midland. ISBN 1-85780-106-7.
  5. "Первый опытный образец самолета-топливозаправщика на базе Ил-476 будет готов к 2015 году - ВПК.name". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  6. Mukherjee, Amit (September 29, 2004). "IAF to get 5th IL-78 refueller soon". The TImes of India.
  8. 1 2 Ansari, Usman (3 November 2008). "Pakistan Eyes Boost in Transport, Lift". Defense News.
  9. 1 2 "Pakistan Receiving IL-78 Refuelling aircraft". Defense Industry Daily. 2008-12-08. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  10. "中国空军急需空中奶妈 新曝伊尔-78非最强版". 2014-03-27. Retrieved 2014-03-27.
  11. "Transport / Tanker Aircraft". SinoDefence. Retrieved 2014-04-23.
  12. Sputnik (2 August 2016). "India considers buying Russian IL-78 after ending Airbus deal". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  13. "Pakistan Receiving IL-78 Refueling aircraft". Defense Industry Daily. 2008-12-08. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  14. "First aircraft tanker arrives in Pakistan: PAF". GEO Pakistan. December 19, 2009.
  15. ru:203-й гвардейский авиационный полк
  16. "Ukraine — Air Force Equipment".
  17. "FAA Registry for N78GF". FAA. Retrieved March 21, 2010.
  18. " - Aviation Photography, Discussion Forums & News". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  20. "Ил-78МКИ - ОАО "Ил"". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  21. "Ил-78 - ОАО "Ил"". Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  22. Ilyushin.
  23. UAC.
  24. Pike, John. "Il-78 MIDAS". Retrieved 2 August 2016.


  • Gordon, Yefim (2004). OKB Ilyushin: a history of the design bureau and its aircraft. Ian Allan. ISBN 1-85780-187-3. 

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