Thursday, October 8, 2009

Russian Il-76 fleet grounded after engine fell off while taking off


The Russian air force has grounded its mainstay heavylift cargo planes following an accident in which an engine broke off the wing of one of the aircraft just before take off, the Defense Ministry said Thursday. The ministry said that the ban on all flights of Il-76 craft will be in place until experts determine the reason behind Wednesday's accident and check the fleet's condition. It was the latest in a string of accidents that has dogged the Russian air force recently and raised questions about the condition of its Soviet-built fleet. It also means that the Russian airborne troops will be grounded until the ban is lifted.

The accident happened at the Severny air base outside the city of Ivanovo, 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Moscow. One of the plane's four jet engines broke off after the pilot engaged full throttle in preparation for take off. No one was hurt, a ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with the office policy. The Il-76 has been the mainstay of Soviet and Russian air force since the 1970s. The big plane has four engines mounted under its wings and is capable of carrying 40 metric tons (44 tons) of big cargo, such as armored vehicles.

The Russian air force also has a small number of the world's biggest An-124 Ruslan transport planes along with smaller and older An-12 turboprop transports, but it relies on the Il-76 for most of its heavylift capability. Earlier this year, the air force announced that it had grounded all its fleet of Mig-29 fighter jets and had to launch costly repairs to make them safe to fly. The move followed a crash in December that occurred when one such plane lost part of it tail section. Officials said the accident had been caused by corrosion.

And in August, two Su-27 fighter jets of the elite Russian Knights aerobatic squadron collided near Moscow, killing the squadron leader. The official probe is still ongoing. Despite a steady rise in defense spending during Russia's eight-year, oil-driven economic boom, the military has received only a few new aircraft and has had to continue to rely on aging Soviet-built planes.

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