Russia’s Ilyushin Aviation Complex, the core of United Aircraft Corporation’s transport aircraft division, has designed and presented an IL-96-500T airlift freighter aircraft concept, reports state-run newswire TASS.
The proposed specialised freighter is based on the existing Il-96-400 cargo aircraft powered by four PS-90A1 engines, and will offer a larger fuselage with the capability of transporting oversized cargo shipments, with a tail-plane fitted with auxiliary fins to maintain directional stability.
Such an aircraft could be used to deliver parts of Angara space rockets to the Vostochny launch site, for example. Besides the expanded upper part of the fuselage, the proposed IL-96-500T will also feature an upward-opening forward hatch and an additional extendable cargo ramp.
The dimensions of the cargo hold will enable the transportation of unique one-piece loads, flying up to 80 tonnes of commercial freight over a range of 4,360 km. The market for such services is made up largely of aerospace, aviation and shipbuilding industries, as well as the oil and gas sector, Ilyushin believes.
Prior to designing the IL-96-500T, Ilyushin studied the experience of the Airbus A300-600ST Beluga and the Boeing 747-400LCF Dreamlifter aircraft, which are both used for carrying large airplane parts. “The international experience demonstrates that developing several units of specialised airlifts based on an existing low-wing airliner platform is the optimal solution for transporting heavy and super-heavy cargo for the aerospace industry and for other oversized cargo shipments,” the Ilyushin presentation reads.
It compares the would-be aircraft with the popular Antonov An-124 heavy lift, the production of which remains suspended even though its existing fleet is diminishing. “Despite its unrivalled weight capacity, the An-124, like other high-wing aircraft designed primarily for carrying heavy armour and equipment for the oil and energy sector, is not quite suited for transporting various stages of space rockets and other relatively light-weight but oversized cargo and rocket and space equipment,” it adds.
Ilyushin is counting on producing 16 airframes of the type in the period between 2026 and 2034. Of this number, six are intended for Russia’s defence ministry, and a further six would be available for lease to commercial operators through the lessor Ilyushin Finance Company. The remaining four IL-96-500Ts are proposed for Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and the China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation (CRAIC), a Sino-Russian joint venture that is currently designing the CR929 wide-body, long-haul airliner programme.
If a batch of five of the Ilyushin aircraft is manufactured, the airframer assesses the direct cost of building a prototype, including research and development (R&D) costs, plus the design and production setup, would be 30.3 billion roubles. A serially-built IL-96-500T will cost 12 billion roubles it is estimated. The break-even point is expected within 10 to 12 years and the project may take between five and seven years to materialise.
Roscosmos told TASS that it is interested in IL-96-500T production and operation, although the Ilyushin Finance Company (IFC) representative was reluctant to comment on the project’s prospects to Russian Aviation Insider.
A source close to UAC told Russian Aviation Insider that the IL-96-500T project was developed in the period when Ilyushin was run by Alexey Rogozin, the son of Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, and that the current management of the company believes the project has no future.
Ilyushin has refused to comment.
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