In addition to the Candid, other versions of the aircraft include the A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning platform, and the Il-78 Midas aerial refueling tanker. The Il-78 'Midas' is an air-to-air refuelling development of the Il-76, built to replace Myasishchev 'Bison' tankers. Service entry was in 1987. While early production Il-78 had removable fuselage tanks and could be used as a military transport, later improved version Il-78M can not be converted to transport.
The Il-78 airplane, created on the basis of the Il-76 airplane, is designated for inflight refueling of airplanes of various purposes. The Midas is a three-point tanker probe and drogue based on (or converted from) the airframe of the Il-76MD military freighter, carrying a maximum payload of 48,000 kg. This new aerial-refueling tanker aircraft began development in the early 1980s. When deployed, the new tanker supported tactical and strategic aircraft and significantly improved the ability of Soviet aircraft to conduct longer range operations.
Fitted with three Severin/UPAZ PAE external refueling units, one under each wing (which are reportedly sometimes removed on missions involving only a single receiver aircraft) and one mounted on the port side of the rear fuselage, the Il-78 is a three (or sometimes two) point air-to-air probe and drogue tanker aircraft capable of delivering fuel at a rate of 900 to 2,200 liters/min.
Refueling process is monitoredby operator, occupying gunner's position of the Il-76. His workplace isequipped with optical rear view system, in addition to radio-technical andlight signal equipment. Once connected, refueled aircraft can receive upto 57,720 kg of fuel from the wing tanks (8,5720kg from both wing and fuselage tanks) at rate 900 to 2,200l/min.
Internally the Il-78 has a pair of enormous cylindrical, pallet-mounted fuel tanks in the cargo hold, together containing 35 tonnes of the aircraft's 100-tonne total transferable fuel load. The refueling process is monitored by an observer occupying the former tail gunner's position and controlled from the flight engineer's station in the cockpit. Receiver/tanker rendezvous is facilitated by a simple homing radar housed behind a broad flat aft-facing radome located forward of the standard rear loading ramp.
The former Soviet Union's only operational Il-78M regiment was based in Ukraine, which retained the aircraft after independence. Only a handful remained in Russian hands.
The IL-78MK (convertible) refueling tanker was developed based on the IL-78M aircraft. The IL-78MK is designed for the in-flight refueling of up to three aircraft of various types. The aircraft can be refueled in the air by day or night in the appropriate conditions of visibility. On the ground the airplane is capable of refueling of up to four airplanes simultaneously. The airplane can be reequipped on site in operational conditions and then operate as a military transport aircraft for airdrop and air landing of cargoes and personnel.
The IL-78MK-90 is a further version powered by more powerful PS-90A-76 turbofans, each rated at 35,000-lb, providing a maximum combined thrust of 140,000-lb at takeoff. The Il-78MK-90 adds two tons to the payload up to 50 tons and increases the cruise speed from 750 kph to 850 kph compared with the D-30KP powered Il-78MK. The landing run distance is shortened by 40 meters and can take off in 1,550 meters compared to 2,200 meters for the same aircraft powered by D-30KP engines.
During the exercises from January 28 to February 2, 2008, Russian pilots practiced reconnaissance, missile and bomb strikes on mock adversary naval force, and will fly simulated air combat and air patrolling missions. A total of 40 aircraft, including Tu-160 Blackjacks, Tu-95MS, Tu-22M3 Backfire C strategic bombers, Il-78 Midas aerial tankers, A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning aircraft MiG-31 Foxhound long-range interceptors and Su-27 Flanker frontline fighter aircraft participated in the drills. The aircraft flew somet 40 training sorties during the exercise.
On 13 February 2008 Russia's Air Force announced the launch of a tactical exercise involving long-range aviation in "northern latitudes" to rehearse interoperability in air patrol missions. "The active phase of the tactical exercise has started under the command of long-range aviation commander Maj. Gen. Pavel Androsov," the Armed Forces command said in a press release. It did not say exactly where the exercise was being conducted or whether it was in Russia or outside its borders. The drill, including one heavy-bomber regiment, practiced midair refueling, flights over uncharted terrain and in difficult weather conditions, as well as landings on off-base, alternate airfields. Over 20 Tu-95 (Bear) strategic bombers and Il-78 (Midas) four-engine aerial refueling tankers participated in the exercise.
In all approximately 45 Il-78 tankers were produced at Uzbekistan's Tashkent Chkalov Aircraft Association [TAPO]. The cost of one airplane with delivery for export is estimated approximately at 25-35 million dollars.
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