Radio Parts Stolen From Russia’s Ilyushin Il-80 Doomsday Plane

In a serious security breach, thieves have broken into Russia’s ‘Doomsday’ plane, the Il-80, while it was undergoing maintenance in southwestern Russia. The break-in occurred through the cargo hatch, likely sometime last week, and around 39 pieces of radio equipment have been reported stolen.

Ilyushin Il-80
Thieves broke into the Il-80 and stole radio equipment. Photo: Kirill Naumenko via Wikimedia

Stealing from the Doomsday plane

The Ilyushin Il-80, carrying the NATO reporting name Maxdome, is a four-engine, widebody flying fortress, designed to operate as a specialized military Airborne Command Post (ACP). It’s a very rare bird with only four in service and is equipped to survive a nuclear war. This so-called ‘Doomsday’ plane allows President Vladimir Putin to even launch nuclear missiles from onboard.

Imagine Russia’s surprise and indignation, therefore, when this highly guarded military aircraft was robbed last week. Thieves reportedly broke into the plane while it was undergoing maintenance and stole 39 pieces of radio equipment from inside.

The incident occurred in the southwestern Russian city of Taganrog last Friday. The Il-80 was undergoing maintenance work at the site when unidentified thieves broke open the plane’s cargo hatch. Russian transport police are reported to be launching a criminal investigation. The Moscow Times reports a statement saying,

“The Beriev Aircraft Company reported that a cargo hatch breach was discovered during an inspection of one of the aircraft.”

It’s not entirely clear when the break-in occurred, as the plane was reportedly unharmed on the most recent inspection on November 26th. It was December 4th before the breach was identified.

Ilyushin Il-80
The aircraft was undergoing maintenance when it was broken into. Photo: Alex Beltyukov via Wikimedia

Fingerprints and shoe prints taken

Russian news agency Ren.TV says that 12 people are being interrogated about the theft. These include the head of operations, as well as engineers and aviation technicians of the Taganrog Aviation Scientific and Technical Complex (TANTK). A source told the publication,

“These officers were interviewed; their fingerprints were taken. In addition, law enforcement officers received lists of the rest of the employees of the Federal State Unitary Enterprise” UVO of the Ministry of Transport of Russia “, including those on duty on the day of the robbery.” 

One employee has reported seeing a suspicious individual around the site a few weeks before the theft. This person had claimed to be a radio operator at the time, but it is now thought this was not who he truly was. The person has yet to be identified.

A rare bird

The Il-80 is probably one of the rarest birds in the world today. Its classified nature means not a whole lot is known about it, and it’s not often seen either in the skies or at airports.

Having taken a first flight in 1985, the type entered operation in 1992. Since 1987, four such aircraft have been built. They are all based on the Il-86, but are heavily modified from that base model.

Ilyushin Il-80
The hump on its head is likely advanced communications hardware. Photo: Dmitry Terekhov via Wikimedia

None of the aircraft have any windows apart from the cockpit, giving maximum protection to its inhabitants from nuclear blasts. There is only one airstair door, rather than three on the original aircraft, and an unusual baffle blocks the rear cockpit windows, presumably to block RF or EMP pulses.

The most notable feature of this unusual aircraft is the upturned canoe-like structure on the roof. As you might expect, this is a serious satcom array, likely housing some very advanced communications equipment. While these planes are getting rather old right now, Ilyushin is already working on the replacement aircraft – the Il-96-400 – which will become Russia’s new ‘Doomsday’ plane.