Ilyushin Experimental Design Bureau: We Will Work to Create a Transport Drone
On 13 January, Ilyushin Aviation Complex, a legendary aircraft manufacture company that gave the world some of the best transport and passenger aircraft, celebrated its 85th anniversary. In an exclusive interview to the TASS news agency, PJSC «IL» chief designer Nikolai Talikov spoke about the prospects of the Russian transport aviation, as well as about plans to create passenger aircraft of the future.
— Nikolai Dmitriyevich, the company has existed for 85 years already. Congratulations upon this anniversary. Let us briefly sum up the company’s work throughout these years.
— If we go back to the past years, the mid 80s and early 90s can be regarded as the most flourishing times for the company. The stability of our enterprise was recognised throughout its whole existence.
Each five years, starting fr om the 50s, a new type of aircraft was produced. They included IL-18, IL-62, IL-76, IL-86, IL-96, IL-114. Each of these aircraft was not just a prototype model – it was commercialised for batch production at our factories.
IL-18 and its modifications were produced by the Moscow plant, which now forms part of the MiG Russian Aircraft Corporation, IL-62 aircraft was manufactured in Kazan, IL-76, almost a thousand aircraft, was developed by the aircraft plant in Tashkent, during the times when we were a unified state. Moreover, at one point it produced 72 aircraft a year, which would be enough to re-equip three regiments of military and transport aviation.
103 IL-86 aircraft were issued by the plant in Voronezh. It is common knowledge all over the world that these are the most reliable aircraft that fly today. The batch production of IL-96 began after IL-86, because it could no longer maintain the required engineering standard. A small amount of these aircraft was produced, and then, after the dissolution of the USSR, the new officials of our country turned to the West to purchase foreign-made aircraft.
A flow of Airbus, Boeing, and other foreign-made aircraft streamed into the Russian aircraft companies, while all the Soviet was just forgotten, though by many characteristics our airliners were second to none of their western counterparts. Currently, all the long-range aircraft in civil airlines are of foreign origin. At that time, we also lost our regional aviation. There used to be IL-14, AN-24, YAK-40, TU-134 aircraft, then they were replaced by IL-114, which even began its operation in Russia, but it was decided that Russia needed aircraft fr om the West, and we received Embraer, Airbus, and so on, fr om the secondary market.
At the moment, only Uzbekistan continues the operation of IL-114 and, I must say, rather successfully. Since 2006, the country’s authorities took an interest in the Russia-made aircraft. It’s during that time when it was decided to re-launch IL-76 production, as it became clear that it was wrong to manufacture military equipment for our armed forces outside Russia. All measures were taken to relocate the production to our country, and in 2012 the first IL-76MD-90A aircraft performed its first flight. Today, though, as we believe, in insufficient quantities, but this aircraft is on batch production.
Speaking of the results of the last year, IL-78M-90A refueler is to make its first flight. Moreover, the army has asked us to modernise IL-76MD aircraft, which are in commission now, and we have manufactured the first production IL-76MD-M. The customer tested it in late December last year, and the aircraft is ready to be handed over, but we haven’t had enough time yet to do all the paperwork. In January, we are going to hand over the first production modernised aircraft to the defence ministry.
— What other projects are ongoing in the company?
— We currently have a light military and transport IL-112V aircraft under construction. In December 2016, we signed a contract for relocation of IL-114 passenger aircraft production to Russia. The aircraft is going to be manufactured in Lukhovitsy. Now we are preparing all the documentation, and in 2020 the first production airplane is to take off at MiG Russian Aircraft Corporation. We think that it will be fortunate and will have a lot of modifications.
— When are you going to finish the testing of IL-78M-90A?
— We have these tests ongoing simultaneously with IL-76MD-90, as these aircraft complement each other. All the tests, which have been performed with regard to this vehicle, shall be included in the test programme of the new refueler as well. That is why the testing period for IL-78 is going to be much shorter than that for IL-76MD-90A.
I think that the tests will be accomplished at the end of this year or at the beginning of the next one. I cannot speak about exact terms, because it’s Russia, wh ere the meteorological conditions are hard to predict. We usually combine the first flight with a broad flight test schedule, but if there is very low cloud, we don’t want to take unnecessary risks.
— How is the government contract for IL-76MD-90A going?
— At insufficient rates, in my opinion. We have a preproduction batch of three aircraft, right now we are assembling a sixth aircraft already, but we are not content with the rates anyway.
There is an aspect here – on these aircraft, we have to perform all the import substitution works. That is, the NATO equipment has to be replaced by Russian one, and there were also a lot of components of Ukrainian origin installed. This causes certain difficulties during production.
— Have you managed to cope with them?
— We have. After all, we press upon the suppliers from the ethical point of view, try to accelerate the production process of home-made components with persuasion, with funds, but, after all, we are not a money printing press here, that’s why we have to seek various options to implement our plans.
— And what can you say about the civil version of IL-76MD-90A?
— We have a decision to create this version. It has been concurred by the ministry of transport and the ministry of defence, and is just biding its time. Now we are going to ensure more or less regular supply for the ministry of defence, and then we are going to attend to the civil version and export, since the foreign customers are quite eager for it.
— At what stage is the IL-96-400M passenger aircraft project?
— It’s no secret that today the top officials of our country fly by IL-96-300, which performs its functions almost flawlessly and causes no trouble. Transportation of the country’s top officials is a matter of strong trust and high responsibility, that’s why we always keep an eye on this aircraft and do our best to avoid any problems during the aircraft operation.
It was decided to make a passenger IL-96-400M on the basis of IL-96-300 and IL-96-400T. It will be able to carry up to 400-415 passengers and will conform to the western counterparts in terms of performance.
— What are the deadlines for this aircraft?
— We have handed over the airframe documentation, the documentation on the pilot and navigation system is at the stage of hand-over now. I don’t think the flight tests of this aircraft will take much time, as most of the equipment was implemented on IL-96-300, and in case there are any additional requirements, we will manage to do everything that is necessary for this aircraft to be produced in accordance with all the ICAO regulations. The regulations are an instrument of the West to remove rivals from the market, that’s why we have to do our best to ensure the aircraft compatibility.
— Are there any plans to replace IL-38 in the army?
— As for the anti-submarine aircraft, they are, after all, long-range vehicles, which should not meet with submarines at our shores, but somewh ere at a good distance. Today, IL-38 fulfils these tasks. We have carried out modernisation of the aircraft, which expands their visibility afar and depthward. As of today, the Americans have P-8 Poseidon aircraft developed from Boeing-737. We are aware of that, we follow the situation, and can offer similar things to the customers.
— What service life does it have? How much more is it going to serve?
— Today, a modernised IL-38 enters into service with the fleets, and we have favourable feedback from the crew, so it does its job well. Speaking about the service life, we extend it during modernisation, but judging by the airframe condition, this aircraft can still fly for a great amount of time. If the army makes a decision to create a new anti-submarine aircraft, the replacement will take place gradually.
— What can be said now about the super-heavy military and transport aircraft?
— This is a topical subject, and there is a programme for it. At the same time, we are also still responsible for the operational maintenance of AN-124 aircraft. The aircraft operated by Volga-Dnepr airline are maintained by Ukraine, but they do not wish to maintain the Russian military aircraft. That’s why the state has transferred the maintenance tasks to our aviation complex.
These aircraft do some very important work, and the events in Syria have proved that such aircraft are of great significance to the Russian Aerospace Forces (RAF). That’s the reason why now me maintain their technical condition and begin the modernisation, since certain equipment fails. We have to search for analogues of the Ukrainian components, but these aircraft are the most similar to IL-76 in many respects, which makes our task a bit easier.
At the same time, it has been decided (and it is written in the papers) that the next thing on the agenda is to create a super-heavy military and transport aircraft. We began our works on IL-106 aircraft as early as in the Soviet times. The dimensions is 5.8 in width and 4.6 in height. And at least at the moment, the military confirm that they are satisfied with such dimensions, and we are ready to work.
That is, we have the decision on paper that “yes, we need this aircraft”, but we don’t have the financing yet. Last year, at various meetings in the defence ministry and military industrial sector, we reported on these issues and received support in all respects. We were given assurances that the aircraft is needed.
— Nowadays the whole world goes along the road of automation of all processes and minimum involvement of people in terms work with technical equipment. Are there any plans on producing drones?
— Currently, we do not develop unmanned aerial vehicles. In Russia there are firms which do it, we cooperate with them. We discuss some priority aspects of these works with them.
— Will there be a transport drone in the end?
— We will work on that. You have to understand, to create a transport drone or any other aggregate, a base aircraft has to fly first.
— And which aircraft is going to be the basis?
— We’ll have to wait and see. I think we will start with the light ones – IL-112, for example. So far it’s been just a matter of talk. At least the firms dealing with drones are ready to cooperate with us. It is possible to install drone equipment on IL-112 and carry cargoes between aerodromes.
— Let’s speak about the fate of IL-103. When is the production of these aircraft going to be renewed?
— A while back, we produced this aircraft and thought it would be an aircraft for the Russian Army, Air Force and Navy Volunteer Society, an aircraft for primary training and for proficiency testing of young people who enter various flight schools. Because sometimes [a student] finds himself in a situation wh ere he has already studied for two years, but when it comes to flight practice, it turns out that he just cannot fly, just because of the way his mind works. Two years are lost in vain, money is spent, and the results are nil. That is why we initially thought that it was going to be an aircraft for both proficiency testing and primary training.
We thought that the ministry of defence would order two or three aircraft for a regiment to maintain the pilots’ flight proficiency. Because it’s one thing when you run heavy aircraft with large oil consumption, but it’s another to maintain flight proficiency on small aircraft, consuming one fuel barrel for a whole regiment.
But, during the UAC [United Aircraft Corporation] establishment, it was decided that this aircraft is secondary for us, and we ceased its production. Nevertheless, South Korea ordered 27 of such aircraft, we supplied them, and these aircraft are now active in flight schools. Unfortunately, one of these vehicles was crashed – it hit against a power line – but the 26 aircraft still fly, and South Korea is quite happy with them, and we, for our part, provide operational support. Last May, new management came to the company, and the new general director Alexey Rogozin looked at the issue from a different angle, and now we are restoring the IL-103 production.
— Where is it going to be produced?
— It can be produced in Lukhovitsy, too. They are ready to allocate premises for it, but it may be unprofitable to manufacture this aircraft within a large factory. I believe we need a small factory in this case.
— When do you plan to begin the manufacture, if, for example, an overriding decision is made in the near future?
— Actually, it can be arranged quickly. We will promptly make digital documentation, hand it over to the production plant, and start working. However, there is a serious issue – engines. There are American engines installed, but the sanctions will not allow us to supply aircraft with such power plants to our RAF. We have to attend to the second line of work here, i.e. find engines of Russian or Chinese origin.
— Speaking of IL-18, is it planned to modernise it or replace the engines?
— We are going to maintain the IL-38 modernisation, since the country needs them, but the rest of the aircraft of this series (IL-20, IL-22, etc) will in time be replaced by IL-114. Because the dimensions, which the equipment on IL-20 and IL-22 had, are now minimised, and we can install all of it on IL-114 without any loss in quality.
— Is there an overriding decision made to reduce the number of engines on IL-96 to two? When can this aircraft fly? Do the terms of manufacture of this aircraft depend only on the terms of PD-35 engine development, or some serious changes will have to be made to the airframe structure?
— The wing structure will have to be altered a bit, since two engines is not the same as four. Plus, some systems will also have to be changed a little. But we have put it down in all our documents and are waiting for the release of PD-35.
— At what stage is the project of medium military and transport aircraft?
— It’s been a long time since we began creating this aircraft, and it has already had three cycles – IL-88, IL-214 (or MTA), which we designed jointly with India, and now it is IL-276 aircraft. The terms of reference (ToR) have already been signed by everyone, and there is only the signature of the Russian defence ministry which is pending. We have already begun our work on this aircraft. I believe that, starting from the middle of the next year, if it goes well with IL-112, IL-114, and IL-96 aircraft, we will be able to begin developing the design documentation.
As per all our plans, the development works are to be finished in 2025. Of course, we will increase our workforce keeping this in mind. We are already experiencing some sort of “cadre hunger”, since the programmes are vast, and we need a lot of people to be involved.
— How do you assess the company’s current workforce capacity?
— Today we have quite a lot of young specialists. The total head count of the design bureau is 800 people. But with the programmes which we currently have, we believe there is still room for improvement and development. After all, it’s no secret that new employees do not plunge into the working process right away, it takes them from three to five years to begin really making sense and working properly.
We have a rather broad job-training programme with MAI [Moscow Aviation Institute], we have our own faculty there, and these people are going to be employed by our company. We will try to appease the “cadre hunger” as soon as possible, if there is financing, of course.
— What can you say about internal changes that are happening now at ilyushin? Is the creation of the transport division to your liking?
— Whatever you call us, we are still Ilyushin in the end. They did call us a transport division, but it’s not only transport vehicles that are at our disposal. We also have passenger aviation – IL-114, and IL-96, small 103, special aircraft.
— In your opinion, will the arrival of the new general director affect the company’s projects?
— Of course it will, it always does when new management comes, but at least it’s no surprise for us that Alexey Dmitriyevich Rogozin has come to us as general director. We know the Rogozins’ way of working. I remember his grandfather, Oleg Konstantinovich Rogozin. We worked together for quite a while. A nice person and a rather successful one; he was a good engineer.
We haven’t worked together with Dmitry Olegovich [Rogozin] directly, but we started cooperating when he became president of the military industrial sector and deputy prime minister of Russia responsible for the defence industry. We have an understanding, speak the same language, he is reasonable and sees our problems, our hardships. And the fact that today his son is the head of our company is, as we see it, a result of our common work, which we have been doing since the early 1970s.
The Rogozin name, I believe, helps us in our work.
Alexey Panshin, Anna Yudina.