IL aircraft in the sky of AntarcticaOn the 25th of February 1986 IL-76TD transport aircraft (reg No SSSR-76479) landed for the first time at snowy-icy airdrome in Antarctica. It was the first in the world landing of an aircraft of such type on ice.
The history of exploring the Antarctic sky is inseparably associated with IL aircraft. 30 years before the historical landing of IL-76TD, on the 25th February of 1956 the crew of an outstanding polar pilot, Hero of the Soviet Union, Ivan Ivanovich Cherevichny, made the first reconnaissance flight onboard IL-12 (reg No SSSR-N476) to the region of the South geomagnetic pole, where it was planned to built an intercontinental “Vostok” station. Onboard there was a famous polar explorer, chief of the first Soviet complex Antarctic expedition, Hero of Soviet Union, Mikhail Mikhailovich Somov. On the 3rd of March 1956 the same aircraft flew to the South Pole region of relative inaccessibility, i.e. the furthest from the oceanfront point in Antarctica.
Till 1990 airlift of polar explorers and cargo within Antarctica were made generally by IL-14T aircraft, and despite the decision made in 1961 about use of IL-18, and the first flights to Antarctica were made, IL-14 still remained the main polar aircraft.
In 1980 a unique snowy-icy runway was put into operation, it is 12.3 km to the east of “Molodezhnaya” station, near Vechernyaya mountain. The runway was able to accept heavy aircraft of IL-18 type on wheeled landing gear. And in February of 1980 IL-18D (reg No SSSR-74267) made its first flight to Antarctica and first landing to the new runway. The crew chiefs were A.N. Denisov and E.P. Bunchin, flight director – B.D. Grubyi. On the 16th of February 1980 this aircraft made a non-stop flight on the route “Molodezhnaya” – pole of inaccessibility – South geographical pole – “Molodezhnaya”, during which a short scientific program for geophysics and meteorology was completed. The aircraft returned to Moscow on the 23th of February 1980, having flown total 45 660 km for the whole expedition. The flight time was 78 hours 54 minutes.
This flight marked the start of regular flights from USSR to Antarctica, which continued up to 1992.
To be fair it should be noted that IL aircraft were not the only national aircraft which operated in Antarctica. So, in different years there were operated LI-2, An-2 and An-12, helicopters, but it were IL aircraft which played the leading part.
The first flight onboard IL-76TD to Antarctica was from 18 February to 04 March 1986 on “central” route: Moscow – Leningrad – Larnaca - Djibouti – Maputo – “Molodezhnaya” station – “Novolazarevskaya” station and back. The crew chiefs were pilots of the General Department of International Air Services, G.P. Aleksandrov, Y. Golovchenko and Y. Yakovlev, flight director – chief navigator of the Ministry of Civil Aviation - V.Y. Kiselev. The aircraft delivered to Antarctica 58 participants of the 31st Soviet Anterctic Expedition and took out 59 participants of the 30th one.
In 1989 a new route to Antarctica was opened for IL-76, it was called “western”. The crew of the honored test-pilot of the USSR S.G. Bliznyuk on board IL-76MD (SSSR-76822) for the first time flew to the icy continent on route Moscow – Garder (Newfoundland island) – Montreal – Minneapolis – Miami – Havana – Lima – Buenos-Aires – Punta Arenas – aviation base of Chile Air Force “Rodolfo March Martin” at Antarctic Island King George near the Soviet Antarctic station “Bellinsgausen” and back (Punta Arenas - Buenos-Aires – Salvador – Sal Island – Paris – Prague – Moscow). The most difficult on this route was landing to the ground, pebby, snowy runway at King-Georg Island, which is only 1265 m long, while it needed at least 1500 m for the heavy IL-76MD in such conditions. For reduction of the aircraft run during landing all the scope of measures was applied: turn on of reverse of two inner engines at runway touch and further reverse turn on of two outer engines during run-on, use of all wing mechanization, use of side doors as brake flaps, reduced pressure of all landing gears.
The chief of the expedition was the famous polar explorer, scientist-oceanologist, Hero of the Soviet Union, A.N. Chilingarov, and at that time Deputy General Designer OJSC “IL” N.D. Talikov.
It is difficult to overestimate the role of IL aircraft in exploration of Antarctica, they still do air transportation at the icy continent, they come to help in emergencies. It was IL-76TD which delivered Prince Harry to “Novolazarevskaya” station airdrome in November 2013. The aircraft was piloted by joint crew of OJSC “IL” and State Research Institute of Civil Aviation.