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The Ilyushin Il-38 "Dolphin"[1] (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.

Ilyushin Il-38SD Krivchikov 2007.jpg
Ilyushin Il-38SD of the Indian Navy in 2007.
Role Anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft
Design group Ilyushin
First flight 28 September 1961
Introduction 1967
Status In service
Primary users Soviet Naval Aviation (historical)
Russian Naval Aviation
Indian Naval Air Arm
Produced 1967–1972
Number built 58
Developed from Ilyushin Il-18

Design and developmentEdit

The Il-38 is an adaptation of the four-engined turboprop Ilyushin Il-18 for use as a maritime patrol aircraft for the Soviet Navy. It met 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, calling 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 flight deck. An aerodynamic prototype of the Il-38 first flew on 28 September 1961,[2] with the first production aircraft following in September 1967. Production continued until 1972, when the longer-range and more versatile Tupolev Tu-142 derivative of the Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber had entered service.[3]

The airframe is based on the Il-18, with the wings moved forward 3 m (9.84 ft).[4] 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.[2]

Some Western sources state that 58 were produced;[3] the commander of the ASW squadron at Ostrov has stated that Soviet Naval Aviation received 35,[1] of which about thirty remain in service with Russian Naval Aviation.[5] Five were passed to India in 1977/8.[1] In the mid-1990s it seems the Tu-204/Tu-214 airliner won a competition against the Beriev A-40/Be-42 amphibious plane to replace the Il-38 in Russian service,[1] but a lack of funds crippled the project. More recently an A-40 variant seems to be under development to replace the Il-38.

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.[6] 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 turret under the nose and an electronic intelligence system housed in a box-like structure mounted on struts above the forward fuselage.[5] Three upgraded aircraft, designated Il-38 SD, have been delivered to the Indian Navy.[7]

Operational historyEdit

An IL-38 May passing low over USS Midway on 18 May 1979

One prototype was lost in the early 1970s when it was forced to ditch in the sea.[1]

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, Asmara in what was then Ethiopia, Libya and Syria. Two Il-38s were attacked on the ground in a commando raid and at least one was destroyed by Eritrean People's Liberation Front fighters in 1984 at Asmara.[3] Following the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Il-38s continue in service with the Russian Navy's Arctic and Pacific Fleets.[5]

The type made its first visit to a NATO base in 1995, at NAS Jacksonville in the United States.[1] Its first appearance at an airshow in the West was at the 1996 Royal International Air Tattoo in the United Kingdom.[1]

A tragic midair 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 midair collision above the Dabolim airport in Goa. All twelve aircrew (six aboard each aircraft) were killed and both aircraft were also destroyed.[8]


An unmarked Ilyushin IL-38, which was later delivered to the Indian Navy in 1983 and was the navy's first Il-38 to be modernised to SD standard.
Production aircraft
Modified with a receiver probe as part of a probe and drogue air refueling system. System not adopted.
Tanker variant of the Il-38. Prototype only
Improved variant sometimes referred to as Il-38SD for Sea Dragon, which is a new search and tracking system. The Russian Navy version is equipped with the Novella P-38 system.[9] Novella P-38 is able to find air targets at ranges of up to 90 kilometers and follow surface objects within a radius of 320 kilometers, can track 32 above- and underwater targets simultaneously.[10] 8 aircraft have been delivered to the Russian Navy.[11][verification needed] Modernized anti-submarine planes have entered into service with Russia’s Pacific and Northern Fleets.[12][13]


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

Specifications (Il-38)Edit

Data from Russian Navy at RIAT 1996[1]

General characteristics

  • Crew: seven-eight[1]
  • Length: 40.185[1] m (131 ft 10 in)
  • Wingspan: 37.4[1] m (122 ft 8 in)
  • Height: 10.17[1] m (33 ft 4 in)
  • Wing area: 140[1] m2 (1,500 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 35,500[1] kg (78,264 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 66,000[1] kg (145,505 lb)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Ivchencko/Progress AI-20M[1] turboprop engines, 3,151 kW (4,225[1] hp) each


  • Maximum speed: 645 km/h (401 mph, 348 kn)
  • Ferry range: 7,500 km (4,700 mi, 4,000 nmi)
  • Endurance: 13 hours[1]
  • Service ceiling: 11,000[1] m (36,000 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 alsoEdit

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Borst, Marco P.J. (Summer 1996). "Ilyushin IL-38 May- the Russian Orion" (PDF). Airborne Log. Lockheed: 8–9.
  2. ^ a b Lake 2005, p.31.
  3. ^ a b c Lake 2005, p.32.
  4. ^ Gordon 2004, p.92.
  5. ^ a b c Lake 2005, p.36.
  6. ^ Lake 2005, pp.32–33.
  7. ^ "Индийские противолодочные самолеты получили "Морского змея"".
  8. ^ "India navy planes collide in mid-air". 1 October 2002 – via
  9. ^ "Северный флот получил модернизированный противолодочный самолет".
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Восьмой модернизированный Ил-38Н". 23 December 2016.
  12. ^ "Upgraded Anti-Submarine Planes Enter Russia's Pacific Fleet".
  13. ^ "Il-38N antisubmarine aircraft go on Arctic duty".
  • 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.