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Ilyusin Il-38SD of the Indian Navy in 2007.
Role anti-submarine warfare and Maritime patrol aircraft
Design group Ilyushin
First flight 1967
Primary users Soviet Naval Aviation
Russian Naval Aviation
Indian Navy
Number built 58
Developed from Ilyushin Il-18

The Ilyushin Il-38 (NATO reporting name: May) is a maritime patrol aircraft and anti-submarine warfare aircraft designed in the Soviet Union. It was a development of the Ilyushin Il-18 turboprop transport.

Design and development[]

The Il-38 is an adaption of the four-engined turboprop Ilyushin Il-18 for use as a maritime patrol aircraft for the Soviet Navy. They meet a requirement to counter American ballistic missile submarines. The Communist Party Central Committee and the Council of Ministers issued a joint directive on 18 June 1960, it called for a prototype to be ready for trials by the second quarter of 1962. The fuselage, wing, tail unit and engine nacelles were the same as the Il-18 and it had the same powerplant and flightdeck. An aerodynamic prototype of the Il-38 first flew on 28 September 1961,[1] with the first production aircraft following in September 1967. Production, which continued until 1972, was limited to 58 aircraft, as the longer range and more versatile Tupolev Tu-142 derivative of the Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber had entered service.[2]

The airframe is based on the Il-18, with the wings moved forward 3 m (9.84 ft).[3] Unlike the Il-18, only the forward fuselage of the Il-38 is pressurized. The tail contains a MAD, while under the forward fuselage a Berkut ("Golden Eagle") search radar (named "Wet Eye" by NATO) is housed in a bulged radome. There are two internal weapons bays, one forward of the wing, housing sonobuoys and one behind the wing housing weapons.[1]

About thirty remain in service with Russian naval aviation,[4] while five were delivered to India in 1975.[citation needed]

The Il-38s of the Indian Navy have been sent back to Russia for upgrades. They will incorporate the new Sea Dragon avionic suite, incorporating a new radar, a Forward looking infrared (FLIR) turret under the nose and an electronic intelligence (ELINT) system housed in a box-like structure mounted on struts above the forward fuselage.[4] Three aircraft have been delivered to the Indian Navy. The new version is designated Il-38 SD.[citation needed]

There are reports of efforts towards adding the capability to fire the Indo-Russian Brahmos cruise missile from this aircraft. Mockups have been displayed with air-launched Brahmos attached to underwing pylons on the Indian Navy aircraft.[citation needed]

Operational history[]

The Il-38 was operated by units in the Soviet Northern, Pacific and Baltic fleets. In March 1968 a squadron of Il-38s deployed to Cairo in Egypt, flown by Soviet crews but in Egyptian markings, until being withdrawn in 1972. Il-38s continued to deploy overseas through the Cold War, flying from Aden in South Yemen, Asmera in what was then Ethiopia, Libya and Syria. Two Il-38s were attacked and at least one was destroyed by Eritrean People's Liberation Front fighters in 1984 at Asmera.[2] Following the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union, Il-38s continue in service with the Russian Navy's Arctic and Pacific Fleets.[4]

India received three ex-Soviet Naval Aviation Il-38s in 1977, with two more arriving in 1983. Indian modifications included fitting pylons to the fuselage side to carry the Sea Eagle Anti-ship missile.[5]

A tragic mid-air crash occurred on 1 October 2002, during the Indian squadron's silver jubilee celebrations. IN302 and IN304, which were flying parallel to each other, had a mid-air collision above the Dabolim airport in Goa. All twelve aircrew (six aboard each aircraft) were killed and both aircraft were also destroyed.[citation needed]

On December 7, 2010, two Russian Navy Il-38s appeared over the Japan Sea near the Noto peninsula, interrupting a combined US-Japan Navy drill. The exercises were canceled because of concern that Il-38s might be carrying out surveillance missions on US/Japan naval activities.[citation needed]


An unmarked Ilyushin IL-38, which was later delivered to the India Navy in 1983 and was the navy's first Il-38 to be modernised to SD standard.

Production aircraft
Modified variant with a receiver probe as part of a hose and drogue air refuelling System, did not enter service
Was a modified tanker variant of the Il-38, did not enter service
Improved variant sometimes referred to as Il-38SD for Sea Dragon the new search and tracking system.


Il-38 of the Indian Navy at INS Hansa in Goa, with a Tupolev Tu-142 in the foreground.

 Soviet Union

Specifications (Il-38)[]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 10
  • Length: 39.60 m (129 ft 11 in)
  • Wingspan: 37.42 m (122 ft 9 in)
  • Height: 10.16 m (33 ft 4 in)
  • Wing area: 140 m2 (1,500 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 33,700 kg (74,296 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 63,500 kg (139,994 lb)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Progress AI-20M turboprop engines, 3,170 kW (4,250 hp) each


  • Maximum speed: 724 km/h (450 mph; 391 kn)
  • Range: 9,500 km (5,903 mi; 5,130 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 11,000 m (36,089 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 5.33 m/s (1,049 ft/min)


  • 20,000 lb (9,000 kg) of disposable stores, including depth-charges, mines, torpedoes and bombs.
  • See also[]


    1. 1.0 1.1 Lake 2005, p.31.
    2. 2.0 2.1 Lake 2005, p.32.
    3. Gordon 2004, p.92.
    4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Lake 2005, p.36.
    5. Lake 2005, pp.32-33.
    • Lake, Jon. "Russia's Submarine Killer: Ilyushin IL-38 May". Air International, February 2005, Vol 68 No.2. Stamford, UK:Key Publishing. pp. 30–36.
    • Gordon, Yefim and Dmitriy Komissarov, Ilyushin Il-18/-20/-22; A Versatile Turboprop Transport, Midland Publishing:Hinckley England. 2004.

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