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Beriev A-50 Mainstay - Variants

Beriev 976 SKIP Mainstay-C

The Aircraft 976 Mainstay-C is not really an AWACS. It is an aircraft specialized to track missiles and a mobile ATC station. The Mainstay-C can be easily recognised since it retains the glazed nose and is painted in Aeroflot colors. This SKIP [Airborn Measure and Control Point] has a fixed radar cover filled with other equipment. Russian Air Force aircraft have horizontally-mounted aerodynamic surfaces extending from the fuselage sides behind the main undercarriage housing. They serve to compensate the effect of the rotodome on aircraft handling. The similarly configured Ilyushin/Beriev 976 Mainstay-C missile tracking variant does not have any such additional stabilizing surfaces, possibly as a consequence of different mass distribution within the rotodome and the fuselage of the 976.

The Soviets had long used modified Ilyushin Il-18 turboprops rigged with electronic gear to monitor the telemetry from missile and space launches. When these machines were finally retired, two Candid-Bs were converted to a similar configuration, with an antenna dome on the tail and various antennas littered over the airframe. These machines were simply known as "Aircraft 676" and "Aircraft 776".

Following this exercise, the Soviets decided to modify five Il-76MDs to a more capable tracking and telemetry configuration, also with a litter of antennas but this time including the Shmel "toadstool" radome. These machines were designated "Aircraft 976", or "SKIP" for "samolyotniy komahndno ismereetelniy poonkt (airborne measurement and control station)". They were also referred to as "Il-76SK", "Il-976", or "Be-976", the Beriev OKB having been involved in the conversion.

Although some sources incorrectly identified the Aircraft 976 aircraft as AWACS platforms, the similarity of these machines to the A-50 was somewhat superficial, effectively limited to the Shmel radome. They had nose glazing, cargo doors, and a tail turret station, though the cannon were yanked and replaced with an antenna dome. They were fitted with wingtip pods, like those of the Il-76PP Chipmunks, and also with a set of L-shaped antennas on each side of the tailfin. They did not have the vent in the tailfin extension. They appeared in Aeroflot colors though they were clearly not civil machines.


The decree of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Communist Party and the USSR Council of Ministers dated 9 January 1984 ordered the Beriev company to develop an upgraded A-50M aircraft, fitted with the Shmel-2 radar and powered by the D-90 engines (now known as the PS-90A). The new radar system, being developed by MNIIP, the flagship enterprise of the Vega Scientific Production Association, was to provide a greater detection range and magnification of the targets tracked, as well as to feature a capability of guiding more fighters to the targets. In addition to the new radar system the platform proper, its integrated flight and navigation system, and ECM suite were also considerably improved.

The draft design of the new A-50M aircraft (product 2A) was developed as far back as 1984, and its mock-up was built the same year. In order to test the new radar, the new LL "2A" flying testbed, based on the LL "A" (Tu-126), was built in 1987. The Tashkent Aircraft Production Corporation started to build the A-50M prototype, which was to undergo tests in 1989. The flight tests over, about three dozen production A-50Ms were planned to have been produced by the turn of the century.

On 10 September 2008 RIA Novosti reported that Russia had started official testing of its modernized A-50M Mainstay AWACS aircraft for the country's Air Force. The A-50 Mainstay is a Russian airborne warning and control system aircraft based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane. Russia adopted the aircraft in 1984, and the Air Force currently had 16-20 A-50 planes, according to various reports. "The A-50M is the most complex aircraft and we have successfully modernized it," said Vladimir Verba, general director of the Vega Radio Engineering Corp. "The aircraft is undergoing official tests at present and has shown excellent performance so far." The modernization of the A-50M focused on the replacement of outdated analogue equipment with digital electronics systems. "We have greatly improved the processing of the information and significantly decreased the processing time," Verba told RIA Novosti.

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