Huge Turboprop: The Story Of The Ilyushin Il-18

It has been 64 years since the popular Ilyushin Il-18 first took flight. The Soviet turboprop was a sight to be seen as it entered service at the turn of the 1960s, towering over some of the more familiar turboprops in the market today.

Tushino air show, 1961
After the Ilyushin Il-18 entered service in 1959, the Soviet Union was proud to show off the plane at the Tushino Airshow in August 1961. Photo: Getty Images.

Meeting new requirements

There are two Soviet four-engine aircraft with the name of Ilyushin Il-18. The initial program was launched in 1946, but only one unit was produced before the project was scrapped.

This article focuses on the plane that first took flight on July 4th, 1957, and went on to make an impact on Soviet operations for decades to come. Aeroflot, Rossiya, Interflug, Lviv Airlines, Tarom, Cubana, LOT Polish Airlines, and Vietnam Airlines are among the numerous key operators that flew the plane.

The Soviet Union developed the Il-18 alongside the Antonov An-10 in a bid to replace the outdated aircraft of the country’s civil fleet. The government sought modern turboprop solutions to transform the scene.

First Deputy Soviet Premier Mikoyan visits Mexico, 1959
The Ilyushin Il-18 carried many prominent figures following its introduction – here is First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union Anastas Mikoyan reading a book on the plane while traveling to Mexico. Photo: Getty Images

A powerhouse

Weighing at approximately 35,000 kg / 77,200 lb, for a turboprop, the Il-18 was a behemoth during its heyday. The most popular passenger model had a wingspan of 37.4 m / 122 ft 8 in, a height of 10.165 m / 33 ft 4 in, and a length of 35.9 m / 117 ft 9 in.

Nevertheless, the power wasn’t all in the looks. Up until 1990, the type broke 25 world records and was a hit with the international market. These feats were thanks to the technological advances found throughout the aircraft.

“The aircraft features two glass windows, blisters and three downward open windows for optical devices. Four hardpoints are mounted on the wings of the aircraft for deploying PMS sensors. Other systems incorporated in the aircraft encompass inlets for air sampling, aboard system for ground power supply, a system for shooting out squib, a system for seeding solid carbon dioxide, and cement and acquisition systems,” Aerospace Technology shares.

“The flight deck of the IL-18 accommodates five crew, including a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator and cabin attendant. The IL-18 comprises three spacious, pressurised and comfortable cabins, namely cabin 1, cabin 2, and cabin 3. The length and width of cabin 1 is 3.23m and 4.6m respectively. The length of the cabin 2 and cabin 3 is similar to that of cabin 1. Their widths are 13.8m and 2.7m respectively.”

Flughafen Berlin - Schönefeld
The aircraft had plenty to shout about amid the robust features in the cabins and improved avionics found at the flight deck, which delighted both passengers and crew members. Photo: Getty Images

Plenty of experimenting

Over 30 variants of the aircraft have been designed over the decades. They have adapted to serve the passenger market, cargo industry VIP services, air force operations, navy tasks, and maritime patrol missions.

Il-18A was the original production model. However, it was the Il-18B that became the first major production edition. This was a medium-haul model that had a capacity of up to 84 seats.

The IL-18D was appreciated by the likes of Aeroflot on cross-country missions. The plane required a crew of nine people to serve up to 120 passengers. The aircraft’s four propellers have a diameter of 4.5 m / 14 ft 9 in, and they are supported by four Ivchenko AI-20M axial flow turboprop engines and a TG-16M APU.

The model can reach a cruise speed of 625 km/h / 388 mph. It could also reach a maximum range of 6,500 km / 3,500 NM thanks to the help of an additional fuel tank at the plane’s fuselage.

When it comes to avionics, the plane holds GPS, INS, and a temperature signal system. Notably, the INS assists pilots in analyzing the position and speed of the plane without the need for external equipment. Interestingly, the GPS receiver was designed by the United States Department of Defense (DoD).

Postcard of Aeroflot Ilyushin-18
Aeroflot was more often than not involved in commercial Soviet aircraft programs and held different variants of the Ilyushin Il-18 over the years – the flag carrier of the Soviet Union was a primary operator of the series. Photo: Getty Images

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Still flying

All in all at least 678 units of the Il-18 were built between 1957 and 1985. The plane transitioned through some of the most influential periods in Soviet history. In fact, it still remains in service today, despite being the predecessor to the Il-62, a long-range jet.

Along with military versions in the Russian Air Force, the type can be seen across civil operations. Russia’s NPP MIR (ChK Leninets) has deployed a unit on cargo services in recent times. Moreover, North Korea’s Air Koryo is another airline with at least one unit in active service.

According to ch-aviation, registration P-835 is an Il-18D that was initially delivered to the Air Koryo back in October 1981. Up to 100 passengers can fit on this aircraft. The 52-year old’s AI-20 engines help provide an MTOW of 64,000 kg / 141,096 lb.

An Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-18D sitting at Russia’s Vladivostok Airport in September 2010. Photo: Stefan Krasowski via Wikimedia Commons

Ilyushin continues to explore the turboprop space today. The group is also not shy to look back at its past to innovate. For instance, the Il-114-300 performed its first flight last year and is expected to enter service in 2023. This aircraft is a development on the classic Il-114 that entered with Uzbekistan Airways 1998.

Aircraft such as the Il-18 helped catalyze the Soviet turboprop industry, and in turn, has influenced the Russian market. With several remote communities placed in areas with challenging conditions across Russia, Iluyushin sees high value in turboprops. This appreciation has been prevalent for over six decades.

Overall, what are your thoughts about the Ilyushin Il-18? Looking back, how do you feel the type compares to other aircraft of its time. Also, how does it hold up against modern turboprops on the scene today? Let us know what you think of the plane and its operations in the comment section.