Friday, December 5, 2008

Ilyushin IL-76TD

When planning the United Nations project in Africa, I did a search on Avsim for suitable equipment. I found three aircraft, one of which I have already described, namely the Lockheed C-130 Hercules turboprop cargo lifter. This aircraft is the mainstay of the World Food Program project in Africa because it not only offers a substantial cargo carrying capacity of over 20 tons, but also because it will operate into very short unimproved (read "dirt") runways. This kind of versatility is hard to match with any other airplane, and very important to this kind of mission.

There were two other aircraft, one was a Boeing 727-200 in the UN all-white livery, with the registration of South Africa on its tail, and the other was an Ilyushin IL-76TD heavy lifter, also a cargo plane like the C-130. The Ilyushin, it turns out, is a strategic airplane in the UN relief operations, in Africa for the World Food Program, and also in Indonesia, where, during the recent tsunami, it assisted with the transport of large quantities of supplies to remote airfields.

The Ilyushin is a unique aircraft. With a ramp footprint not much larger than a typical 767, this plane is nonetheless able to lift over 80 tons of cargo into the air out of a modest runway. It serves a vital role in moving cargo to strategic drop points, such as national capitals, where the C-130 can then make distributions to the local area.

The Ilyushin I downloaded was made by Project Tupolev, and includes a realistic panel. In fact, the plane and panel are so realistic that it took me several days and three online manuals to figure out how to work the thing. Even get the engines started is a maze of switches and settings which have to be made in the correct order. Hats off to the Project Tupolev people, of which the Ilyushin is a subsequent offshoot, for a job well done.

There is just one problem with the plane: it won't co-exist with FS2004 ATC routines, so any attempt to fly the plane under ATC control results in a system crash as soon as ATC tries to tell you to begin descending for arrival. It took me a while to figure this out, since there is no warning or explanation of why FS2004 terminates. Sometimes it even vanishes entirely, leaving you with a blank desktop. So anyway, the solution is to fly the plane VFR, without allowing ATC to issue you any instructions. (Maybe I'll figure out the solution to this problem later on, but right now it's the only circumvention I know.)

So far, one mission completed with the IL-76: Dar-Es-Salaam (Tanzania, HTDA) to Entebbe, Uganda (HUEN), about 500 nm. The plane is a joy to fly. Following the instructions: thrust levers to a TLA of 110, let the plane accelerate smoothly to 270 km/h, pull back gently, and there you go, up into the air. Use the yoke trim controls to adjust pitch for a 1500-1800 fpm climb (between 5 and 10 meters/sec), turn on the autopilot, and let the amazing KLN-90B GPS gauge guide you to the destination. (Yes, it uses the KLN-90B, not the default GPS, but don't be fooled by its similarity to other KLN-90B gauges, this one is new, and simulates EVERY function of the real GPS unit, as far as I can tell. In fact, the designers don't offer a user manual of their own. You download the real pilot's handbook and use that!)

I will be talking more about the IL-76TD in future posts. Meanwhile, if you'd like to fly it, go to and download the file, then follow the instructions in there. You'll have to download the base model from a Project Tupolev web site.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Travels in Ethiopia

Our trip from the Sudan arrived at Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after dark even though we left around 3pm. It seems it gets dark early there this time of year, even in Africa. We made an ATC-guided approach to ILS and landed uneventfully.
The next day we got an early start, leaving HAAB in the C-130 before 7 A.M. for a small dot on the map called "Fincha." The landing at Fincha was not difficult. The landing strip is set on a flat plateau beside a lake, which provides plenty of eacy access space to make the visual approach. Unfortunately, there was nobody there to meet us, as apparently the government notification had not been sent. You can see the plane parked here beside the landing strip - just a dirt runway - with the lake beyond. We canceled flights for the rest of the day until our itinerary could be confirmed.

The next day we set out early again, this time heading south instead of north. According to reports, food shortages in Ethiopia are particularly severe in the southern part of the country where people survive mainly by subsistence agriculture, and the droughts have drastically reduced food production. Not surprisingly, as you can see in this photo how desolate the land looks, even given that it is fall. We arrived at HASD, a dirt landing strip north of the town and lake of Awasa. Google Earth has many pictures of the area, and it seems to be a lovely lake. The local town has interesting architecture.

As you can see from the following image, the landing strip is located several miles north of the town located on the east side of the lake. It's not unusual for airports to be located away from the town they serve, but usually we expect the airport to be more clearly linked to the town. In this case, it's just a hard-baked clay piece of unmarked land that you would know is an air strip only if you were a pilot with a map to tell you where it is.
Nevertheless, after several difficult attempts to make the approach over top the hill to the north of the field, we did finally manage to set down on the ground, park, and open up the tailgate. Townspeople who had seen the plane arrive gathered soon after, and the visit was very succesful.
We continued on for one more trip that afternoon, to Arba Minch, which is farther to the south. Arba Minch has an asphalt runway long enough for jets. The landing was easy. There is a local village there, but the community also consists of rural settlements spread out over a larger area. We dropped another 5,000 lbs of food there, nearly 200 25-lb bags of rice and grain. Then it was back to Addis Ababa to load up the plane for another day. Tomorrow we would head north again into the mountainous regions north of the capital.