Ilyushin Il-78

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

Ilyushin Il-78
Class Aircraft
Type Transport
Manufacturer Ilyushin
Origin Russia (USSR)
Country Name Origin Year
Russia (USSR) 1983
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Algeria View
China View
China View
India View
India View
Iran (Persia) View
Libya View
Pakistan View
Russia (USSR) 1984 View
Ukraine View
United States of America View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Ilyushin 1984 53 View

The Il-76 tanker was conceived as long ago as 1968, but the transferable fuel load for the initial version was only 10 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.[citation needed] 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 take-off, 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.

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 take-off 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 (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 on the strength of Ukrainian Air Force have been permanently converted to pure transports, freight hold tanks and refuelling equipment being removed.


  • Il-78 : The Il-78 was the original production version with two removable fuselage tanks and maximum transferable load of 85.72 tonnes (188,540 lb).
  • Il-78T :  Alternative designation for Il-78 due to retention of all cargo handling equipment and convertible freight hold.
  • Il-78M : 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.
  • Il-78M-90A (Il-478) : Based on the Il-76MD-90A. Prototype will delivery to 2015.
  • Il-78ME : Export version of Il-78M.
  • Il-78MKI : 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 6-8 Sukhoi Su-30MKIs in one mission.
  • Il-78MP : Multi-role aerial refuelling tanker/transport aircraft, with removable fuel tanks in cargo hold and UPAZ refuelling pods, for the Pakistan Air Force, and Chinese Air Force.

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

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
Pakistan Air Force
Produced 1984-present
Number built 53
Developed from Ilyushin Il-76

General characteristics

  • Crew: 6
  • Capacity: 127,932 kg (282,042 lb) payload (T-6 military jet fuel)
  • Length: 46.59 m (152 ft 10 in)
  • Wingspan: 50.5 m (165 ft 8 in)
  • Height: 14.76 m (48 ft 5 in)
  • Wing area: 300 m2 (3,200 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 72,000 kg (158,733 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 210,000 kg (462,971 lb)
  • Special equipment: 3 x UPAZ-1M 'Sakhalin', (oonifitseerovannyy podvesnoy agregaht zaprahvki — standardised suspended refuelling unit), refuelling pods; Two on pylons under the outer wings, and the third on the port side of the rear fuselage.
  • Fuel transfer rate: up to 1361 kg/min (3000 lbs/min)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Aviadvigatel D-30 KP turbofan engines, 118 kN (27,000 lbf) thrust each


  • Maximum speed: 850 km/h (528 mph; 459 kn)
  • Range: 7,300 km (4,536 mi; 3,942 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 12,000 m (39,370 ft)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.23

End notes