The Russian-made Ilyushin IL-78 is a sight to behold. It has been sitting on the tarmac at Sawyer International Airport for more than two-and-a-half years. It's an aerial refueling tanker with a wingspan of more than 165 feet and a height of more than 37 feet. Fully loaded, it can weigh half a million pounds. Built in 1988, it is relatively young with only just over 4000 flight hours. IL-78s are designed to fly and taxi in extreme conditions in Siberia.
"It's a very sturdy, well-built, heavy airplane, typical of a Russian design," said Charlie Searock, President of Searock Aviation Services and retired Air Force General.
Unfortunately, it hasn't been in the air in a long time. It's been tied up in court over legal ownership for more than two years. Only recently has possession been awarded to Headlands Limited, who has now hired contractors to repair the plane and make it air-ready.
"We have a detailed inspection checklist that we're going through that tells us everything we have to go through in order to get the airplane signed off," said Searock.
The IL-78 has been lying dormant for six years. It spent three years sitting in Texas before it flew to Sawyer and sat for another three. If repairs go smoothly, it can be up in the air by the end of May.
Because it has been sitting for so long, all 20 tires need to be replaced. Nearly all of the fluids and filters need to be replaced. All moving parts need to be lubricated. Windows also need to be replaced--all 23 of them--some of which weigh a few dozen pounds.
"All of that has to be gone through and do what we call a return to service inspection and repair as necessary," Searock said.
Repairs have a long way to go, but they're making good progress.
"It's a great airplane. It's not as bad as people think. We're about halfway through the inspection," said Victor Miller, President of Air 1 Flight Support.
Repair costs are around $400,000. The plane is currently for sale at a minimum of $6,000,000. A court date is set in June to determine the division of profits among the owners.