Iranian cargo flights to an Ethiopian Air Force Base: visual evidence
Over the course of 2021, I have regularly reported about Iranian cargo aircraft visiting Ethiopia. This blog post presents previously unseen evidence that Iranian Il-76 cargo aircraft did in fact visit Ethiopian Air Force Base Harar Meda.
In a blog post published in December 2021, I introduced the two airlines these cargo aircraft belong to: “Qeshm Fars Air” and “Pouya Air”, both of which are subject to U.S. sanctions for their support to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Their destinations in Ethiopia are Addis Ababa Bole Airport and Harar Meda Military Airport, respectively. A further introduction to these two airlines can be found in the blog post linked below.
Up until now, I have published evidence of Qeshm Fars Air Boeings 747-200 visiting Addis Ababa in the form of pictures and full Mode-S flight tracks.
Gerjon | חריון @Gerjon_The friends around Addis did not disappoint! Minutes apart, I received reports of🇮🇷Iran's Qeshm Fars Air 🇮🇷EP-FAA taking off in 🇪🇹Addis Ababa around 30 min ago, and several people sent me pictures, two of them shown below. Apparently she was so loud that she set off car alarms. https://t.co/nIJmwwQHJF https://t.co/MIl9pbRFU1
Gerjon | חריון @Gerjon_✈️Mode-S data 23-24 Jul 2021+today, 16 Aug 2021, show Iran-reg Ilyushin Il-76TD reg. 🇮🇷EP-PUS (hex: #7342B3) landed in 🇪🇹Ethiopia. Similar looking aircraft visible on 🛰️Sentinel-2 images at Harar Meda Airport this morning. Landings±: 23 Jul 2021 05:45 UTC 16 Aug 2021 05:00 UTC https://t.co/h05LNQGDn6 https://t.co/7t7z07V8sk
Pouya Air Ilyushins Il-76 did not visit Addis Ababa Bole Airport but rather Harar Meda Military Airport, the main Air Base of the Ethiopian Air Force. Compared to Qeshm Fars flights, Pouya flights were relatively poorly documented: Because the aircraft do not use full ADS-B but rather positionless Mode-S only, no flight tracks are available. Because of the more remote location and strict security measures around Harar Meda Military Airport, I was unable to publish pictures of the aircraft on ground. On one occasion (16 Aug 2021), Sentinel-2 imagery does show an Ilyushin Il-76 on ground at Harar Meda, but Sentinel-2 pixel size does not allow us to narrow down its exact identity.
Oryx @oryxspioenkopNew article! Iranian Mohajer-6 Drones Spotted In Ethiopia https://t.co/9WVDxBi5Su
One of the benefits of EP-PUS compared to most other Ilyushins Il-76 is that her color scheme is very distinctive. From front to back, there is a red and a green line on both sides of the nose, starting below the cockpit, curving upwards behind the cockpit, finally meeting on top of the fuselage in front of the wings. Behind the wings, there is a distinctive green band (again meeting near the wings, on top of the fuselage), followed by a red tail base, also visible from behind.
EP-PUS is the only known active aircraft carrying this color scheme. One similarly colored Ilyushin Il-76 exists in storage at Tehran Mehrabad Airport in Iran. This aircraft however lacks the green-red line on the front of the aircraft. A comparison of the two aircraft can be seen in the Google Earth image presented below, taken at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran.
Gerjon | חריון @Gerjon_The earlier cargo flights from 🇮🇷Iran to 🇪🇹Ethiopia had close to 3 weeks between each. Quoted flight is about 3 weeks ago. Is a new flight coming in soon? https://t.co/gAFr1pLxqz
As part of ongoing research, I came across a satellite image of Harar Meda Military Airport taken on 05 Nov 2021. It was taken at 10:42 UTC, some three hours after “Pouya Air” EP-PUS was tracked descending over Ethiopia. In contrast to satellite imagery previously published on this blog (Google Earth, Sentinel-2), this image was not available for free.
The unique green-red color scheme unique to EP-PUS, is very clearly visible on this satellite image, presented below. Behind “Pouya Air” EP-PUS, its suspected cargo can be seen: either cardboard boxes or wooden crates, some 6×23 meters in size in total.
Over the course of 2021, the existence of Iranian flights to Ethiopia has been proven using Mode-S tracks, ADS-B tracks, pictures around Addis Ababa and Sentinel-2 satellite imagery. Compared to “Qeshm Fars Air” flights to Addis Ababa, “Pouya Air” flights to Harar Meda Airport were relatively poorly documented. This blog post presents a very high resolution satellite image taken on 05 Nov 2021, showing “Pouya Air” Il-76 EP-PUS on ground. Although evidence for these flights has previously been presented on Twitter and this blog, this satellite image takes away any remaining doubts about the existence of these flights.