On September 28, 1988, exactly 34 years ago today the Voronezh Aircraft Production Association (VASO) built the long-haul widebody four-engined Ilyushin Il-96. The aircraft made its first flight from Khodynka Aerodrome in northwest Moscow.

Under the command of Hero of the Soviet Union Stanislav Bliznyuk, the aircraft made a 40-minute flight directly over the central districts of the Russian capital. Powered by four high-bypass Aviadvigatel PS-90 two-shaft turbofan engines, the plane was developed from the Soviet Union’s first widebody airliner, the Ilyushin Il-86. Advances on the predecessor included:

  • A glass cockpit.
  • A fly-by-wire control system.
  • Advanced avionics.
  • Wings fitted with winglets.
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Russia Il-96 VIP

Two versions of the plane were to be built

Two aircraft versions were to be built. The Il-96-300 and the Il-96-300PU. The Il-96 -300 featured a passenger capacity of 262 seats configured in a two-class layout. Eighteen of the premium seats featured a seat pitch of 54 inches, while the 244 seats in the standard economy offered a seat pitch of 32 inches. In the economy section of the airliner, the seats are laid out in a 3+3+3 fashion.

The Il-96-300PU is a highly customized version of the Il-96 -300 made for the Russian presidential aircraft fleet. Four of the planes have been used by Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and current president Vladimir Putin as VIP transports. The leadership in the Marxist–Leninist-run country of Cuba also uses an Il-96 for VIP transport.

The plane made several impressive long-haul flights during testing

During its flight testing, the Il-96 performed several notable long-range flights, including a 9,196-mile flight from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and back without landing in Petropavlovsk. In the summer of 1992, an Il-96 flew from Moscow over the North Pole to Portland, spending 15 hours in the air.

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Aeroflot Il-96-300 cockpit

The aircraft was then taken to Yakutsk for cold weather testing, where it encountered temperatures of -58 °F, and to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, where it faced temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After successfully completing flight tests, the Il-96 received its airworthiness certificate on December 29, 1992.

Deemed as the new flagship aircraft for Russian national flag carrier Aeroflot the plane’s first commercial flight was on July 14, 1993, between Moscow and New York. The aircraft was then deployed on many of Aeroflot’s long-haul routes. Despite little interest from abroad, even though the competing Airbus and Boeing planes were considerably less expensive, three Il-96s served with the national flag carrier of Cuba, Cubana de Aviación.

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Inside the cabin of a Cubana Il-96.

Unfortunately, the Il-96 never became the mass-produced aircraft Russia hoped it would be and was battered by the 2008 crisis. The following year on August 29, 2009, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Viktor Khristenko announced that manufacturing of the Il-96-300 would cease. The reason was that it was inferior to its western-made counterparts and that the aircraft manufacturer could only build one plane per year. The decision was, however, made to continue producing a cargo version of the aircraft.

An advanced version of the plane may be built with a Chinese partner

Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, relations between Russia and the West soured. In 2015 Russia announced that it might build an improved version of the plane so that Russia would become less dependent on Boeing and Airbus.

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In September 2017, Aleksandr Tulyakov, the Vice President of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, announced the development of a 250-280 widebody aircraft with a Chinese partner. This was thought to be a death blow to the Il-96 program, but given the current situation with Russia looking to increase domestic production of aircraft, this might change.

Since being introduced, only 30 Il-96s have been constructed. Ten went to Aeroflot and three to Cubana, of which two are still in service.

Source: simpleflying.com

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