June 28, 2022
The Soviet IL-76 in the Middle of an Arab Desert

The Soviet IL-76 in the Middle of an Arab Desert

DALLAS – The “Palma Beach Hotel” advertisement is the first thing you’ll notice on this mysterious IL-76 that for decades has sat abandoned by the E11 expressway in Umm Al Quwain, UAE.

Those who drive by would have surely seen her rotting away with dust and sand. The aircraft brings about major curiosity to those passing by; that it’s even an attraction listed on trip advisor. Well, it seems like it’ll be no more of a landmark as the end has come for the dead too – the IL-76 is finally going to be scrapped, in fact, the process has already begun.

“The plane is being dismantled. The demolition began a few days ago,” a security guard near the site said, as stated in the Khaleej Times.

Nobody knows how long it’ll take to strip her apart. Most of the aircraft’s components including the engines lie by the plane. The question is when and why did this beast of an aircraft end up in a desert in the middle of nowhere?

Numerous theories revolve around this particular aircraft, It’s believed that the IL-76 made its final landing here sometime between 1999 and 2000. UAQ was a popular aerodrome then offered sky diving although the runway was unpaved.

Image: Google Earth

A Past to Remember

You might just be surprised to see how much this aircraft has witnessed over its time. Quiet and dusty now, she flew all kinds of flights decades ago.

She started off as a part of the Soviet Union’s military among the thousands of Ilyushins. The type itself was brought in to replace the older An 12s specifically for strategic cargo missions with landing and taking off from short airstrips irrespective of the condition.

According to the Aero Transport Data Bank, the aircraft was built in 1975 in part of the Soviet Union which is present-day Uzbekistan. In the early 1980s, she wore the registration CCCP-86715 under the military. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it flew for the Russian Air Force under registration RA-86715, and then, in the 90s, it was sold to the Sharjah-based airline Air Cess.

This is where things took a turn, when Air Cess, a company owned by Sergei Bout, brother of Viktor Bout, who was then an active arms dealer. Initially, it had its headquarters in Belgium but soon moved to Sharjah. The aircraft, though, was last registered under Centrafrican Airlines, which was another holding of Bout.

The UN has firmly stated that Centrafrican was owned by Viktor Bout, “While he is not involved in the day-to-day management of the firm, UN investigators found that Bout signs the contracts for the sale and purchase of aircraft, as well as leasing documents, for the company. The firm has been tied to numerous illicit arms shipments to conflict zones.”

The Il-76 is a high-wing freighter with four turbofans and a T-tail. Photo: By BriYYZ from Toronto, Canada – Volga-Dnepr IL-76 RA-76950, CC BY-SA 2.0

Centrafrican Airlines

Back in 2005, the United Nations Security Council Committee (under resolution 1521) concerning Liberia and the regime of Charles Taylor decided to add individuals and entities to the Assets Freeze List. Centrafrican Airlines was on the list.

The report stated, “Centrafrican’s role in the Liberian arms trade was uncovered when UN investigators found film footage of Liberian rebels handling nine Strela surface-to-air missiles.”

“These missiles appear to match an illegal shipment of weapons organized by [arms dealer and Bout associate] Sanjivan Ruprah and delivered to Liberia in May 2000 by an Ilyushin IL-76 belonging to Centrafrican Airlines. Centrafrican was also involved in other arms shipments, including the attempted sale of two refurbished Mi-24 attack helicopters to Liberia.”

The UAE, however, banned Bout from entering the country in the early 2000s. He was later arrested in the US and still continues to serve his 25 years sentence.

Merchant of Death, a book on Viktor Bout was written by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, who stated the arms trafficker (Bout) “sold the aircraft to an advertising firm in the UAE, promising to turn it into a roadside billboard along the bleak highway”.

There were some plans to convert it into a restaurant but that didn’t take off either. So it’s indeed goodbye to a plane of an exciting past.

Featured image: The Abandoned Plane: Ilyushin IL-76 in UAQ. Photo: Tech-knowledge via Youtube.

EASA commercial pilot | Flight Instructor | Aviation Journalist & writer based in Germany.

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