The Il-78 tanker was developed and designed in the Ilyushin Aviation Complex in Russia. The main reason behind its development was an expansion of the transferable fuel load of an earlier version of tanker, the Il-76.
The Il-78 has a total transferable fuel load of 85,720 kg (188,980 lb), which includes 28,000 kg (62,000 lb) from a pair of 18,230 L (4,820 U.S. gal) tanks in the freight hold. The earlier Il-76 has a capacity of only 10,000 kg (22,000 lb).
The Il-78 transfers fuel solely through the deployment of the probe-and-drogue refueling method.
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.
The Il-78M entered service in 1987 as a dedicated tanker equipped with three permanent fuselage tanks, a higher gross weight of 210 tonnes, 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.
Modernization of Il-78/78M aircraft, using same parts as used in newly produced Il-78M-90A and Il-76MD-90A variants, to enhance service life from 30 to 40 years. First modernized aircraft was rolled out on 25 August 2019.
An upgraded variant based on the Il-76MD-90A. First prototype was rolled out on 29 November 2017, and performed its maiden flight on 25 January 2018. On December 12, 2020, an order for 10 Il-78M-90A was signed, with the serial production starting in 2021.
Pakistan Air Force – 4 Il-78MPs were ordered from Ukrainian surplus aircraft stocks, fitted with removable fuel tanks and UPAZ refueling pods. The first of the four aircraft was delivered in December 2009. A total of four Il-78MPs have been delivered to the PAF as of May 2012.
Ukrainian Air Force – inherited 21 Il-78s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 1993, some of the aircraft were disposed of their refueling equipment and used as cargo aircraft, others were sold to Algeria, India, Pakistan and China for air refueling operations.
An Il-78 of the Ukrainian Air Force was bought and imported by North American Tactical Aviation Inc (NATA) in 2005, and flown to the United States in July 2006 with an intention to use the aircraft for contracted air refuelling operations to United States military. The aircraft latter passed under ownership of the Air Support Systems LLC and got an American civilian registration N78GF. Afterwards, it was mothballed at the North Texas Regional Airport, Texas for 2.5 years. In 2009, it departed from the airport with a Ukrainian crew hired by NATA and was heading to the Wittman Regional Airport, Wisconsin to refuel before leaving the United States on the way to Pakistan for phase aircraft maintenance. However, it was diverted to the Sawyer International Airport, Michigan where it is grounded until now. In 2010, the aircraft was repossessed by the Bank of Utah Trustee and in 2019 sold to Meridican Inc, an international consulting firm in Philadelphia, PA. The aircraft is currently getting a cockpit upgrade for international operations.
Capacity: Max 100,000 kg 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', (Unifitsirovaniy Podvesnoy Agregat 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.
^"Первый модернизированный самолет-заправщик Ил-78М2". bmpd.livejournal.com. 25 August 2019. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
^"В Ульяновске выкачен первый самолет-заправщик Ил-78М-90А". bmpd.livejournal.com. 30 November 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
^Jennings, Gareth (January 26, 2018). "Russia marks maiden flight of Il-78M-90A tanker". Jane's Information Group. Archived from the original on February 1, 2018. Retrieved January 29, 2018. The maiden flight of the new Ilyushin Il-78M-90A aerial refuelling tanker for the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) took place on 25 January. The 35-minute flight took place out of the Aviastar-SP production facility located in Ulyanovsk, approximately 600 km east of Moscow.
^"Russian Defense Ministry Signs Contract to Get 10 Modern Tanker Planes - Deputy Minister".
^Mukherjee, Amit (September 29, 2004). "IAF to get 5th IL-78 refueller soon". The Times of India. Archived from the original on December 3, 2017. Retrieved March 21, 2010.