Discover more from Gerjon’s Aircraft Finds
From Russia to Libya and the Central African Republic: Russia's Paramilitary Ilyushin Fleet
In the summer of 2021, two old Russian-made aircraft, rumoured to be operated by or for Russian Paramilitary organizations, first arrived to Bangui M’Poko Airport, the International Airport of the capital of the Central African Republic. In the following months, they would regularly be seen in Bangui, but also on Air Bases in Libya. One of them is Il-18 reg. TL-KBR, which I already identified as former RA-75713 back in March 2022. Until now, nothing was known about the history of the other aircraft, Il-76 reg. TL-KMZ. In this blog post, I will first summarize the story and history of TL-KBR. Next, I will identify the other aircraft, now known as TL-KMZ, and I will show how and when she got to the Central African Republic.
A lot remains unknown about these aircraft and their current operators. Looking at the flying patterns of these aircraft (originating in Russia, flown to Africa in 2021, operating in regions with a large Russian paramilitary presence, such as PMC Wagner), it seems likely that these two aircraft fly for, or are operated by, Russian Paramilitary organizations. This blog post will however focus on the aircraft alone, not on who they operate for.
The Il-18: TL-KBR
Pictures of an Ilyushin Il-18 at Bangui M’Poko Airport in the Central African Republic first reached (social) media in Feb 2022, for example in the tweet above. The distinctive blue-white color scheme and the long tail stinger allowed me to confirm that this was former NPP MIR (нпп “мир”) reg. RA-75713, a 1966 Ilyushin Il-18 with a rich history.
The early days: RA-75713
The aircaft first started as a prototype for the Ilyushin Il-20, the military reconnaissance version of the Il-18 quad turboprop passenger aircraft, a model first flown in 1957. In the 1990s, RA-75713 and her sister aircraft RA-75804 were used for commercial passenger aviation by Daallo Airlines of Djibouti in Africa, still carrying the external modifications applied as part of their military prototype history.
In the 2000s, the aircraft was converted again. The original external modifications were removed. A new external modification was added: a 6-meter long tail stinger, used for aerogeophysical research. The aircraft was certified as a flying laboratory for NPP MIR in 2006. According to AirHistory.net, RA-75713 was last seen at UCT (Ukhta Airport) on 03 Apr 2021.
RA-75713 becomes TL-ARN… or TL-KBR?
The first known evidence for the arrival of RA-75713 (now registered TL-KBR) to the Central African Republic was uploaded on 04 Sep 2021. Prefix “TL-” denotes that the aircraft is registered in the Central African Republic.
TL-KBR has been seen at various airports in Libya. According to the United Nations Panel of Experts on Libya, the aircraft was seen at Al Khadim Airport in Libya on 03, 17, 26 and 28 October and on 01 and 02 Nov 2021. My own investigations show TL-KBR at Al Jufrah Air Base in Central Libya on 31 Jan 2022 and 30 May 2022.
Various online databases, including ATDB (quoted by the U.N. PoE on Libya) and Russianplanes.net identify the current registration of RA-75713 as TL-ARN rather than the registration written on her fuselage, TL-KBR. A seemingly minor detail, but important for the later comparison to the other Ilyushin seen in Bangui, TL-KMZ.
The Il-76: TL-KMZ
TL-ART’s flight into Africa
On 12 Mar 2021, various people on Twitter, including my friend @YorukIsik, identified an uncommon flight out of Moscow Zhukovsky Airport (formerly known as Ramenskoye) into Africa. The flight was using Mode-S code 5100FE, which belongs to EW-510TH, a former “TransAviaExport” Ilyushin Il-76TD, MSN 0083485561. According to the Ilyushin Airworthiness Archive, the aircraft was alllowed to be in service until 07 Sep 2019, about 1.5 years earlier.
Four days after the flight into Africa, an Ilyushin Il-76 was first seen on Sentinel-2 satellite imagery of Al Khadim Air Base in Libya, the same base where U.N. experts would later find TL-KBR. The aircraft remained on ground for over two months, until the end of May 2021, and never popped up on tracking websites since the flight into Africa.
According to AirHistory.net, EW-510TH was re-registered TL-ART and was indeed seen departing Moscow Zhukovsky on 12 Mar 2021, the day of the flight into Libya.
EW-510TH = TL-ART = TL-KMZ
With a white color scheme and some grey and black details, TL-KMZ (the aircraft seen together with TL-KBR in Bangui) may seem very generic at first glance. However, it turns out that this aircraft is visually identical to TL-ART and EW-510TH, the comparison below shows.
EW-510TH, TL-ART and TL-KMZ all have an identical color scheme, with a light grey nose cone and chin, black engine mounts, white engines and a white fuselage, and identical “IL-76TD” writing on the side.
TL-ART and TL-KMZ have an identical spot of lighter paint below and in front of the right side emergency exit.
EW-510TH and TL-ART (and possibly TL-KMZ) have a recognizable faded “WFP” tail from her days serving the United Nations World Food Programme.
Together with their shared timeline and area of operations, this confirms the three registrations are all one and the same aircraft.
An Ilyushin Il-76 can be seen on Google Earth imagery of Al Khadim Air Base in Libya on 29 Mar 2021. It is the same Il-76 shown in the GIF in quoted tweet above. This Google Earth image was made just over two weeks after the arrival of TL-KMZ to Libya. The color scheme of this Il-76 matches TL-KMZ, further confirming that they are the same aircraft.
Parallels between TL-KBR and TL-KMZ
TL-KBR and TL-KMZ have many things in common:
Both aircraft were flown into Africa in 2021. TL-KMZ flew to Libya on 12 Mar 2021. TL-KBR was last seen in Russia on 03 Apr 2021.
Both aircraft have been seen in Libya (Al Khadim Air Base and/or Al Jufrah Air Base) as well as in the Central African Republic (Bangui M’Poko Airport).
Both aircraft were first registered TL-Axx but now carry registrations TL-Kxx.
Both aircraft are not listed as airworthy by their manufacturer Ilyushin.
At least two Ilyushins are currently active in both the Central African Republic and Libya: TL-KBR and TL-KMZ. Both aircraft may be operated by or for Russian Paramilitary organizations. The first is an Ilyushin Il-18 formerly registered RA-75713 (MSN 186009403). This blog post reveals that the other aircraft is former “TransAviaExport” EW-510TH (MSN 0083485561). She flew into Africa from Moscow Zhukovsky Airport on 12 Mar 2021, and eventually continued to Bangui after spending over two months at Al Khadim Air Base in Libya.
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