Ilyushin Il-28R Beagle

Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle

At the end of WW2 the victorious allies completed with each other in a mad scramble to grab as many German scientists and engineers as possible, in recognition of the many advanced scientific and engineering concepts they had developed during the war. The German aerospace scientists and engineers were a specific target as these men, despite shortages of many essential materials, had created jet propelled aircraft, cruise missiles and rockets well in advance of those fielded by the Allies. It was obvious to anyone closely involved in military aviation that the performance and potential of jet powered aircraft was the future and so in America, Great Britain and Russia, aircraft designers and engineers studied any captured German aviation designs with particular interest.

Tu-4 Bull

Throughout WW2 Russian aircraft designers had lagged some way behind those in the West and although the aircraft the developed were rugged and effective, they were also quite primitive, particularly in engine technology and avionics. The Russians recognised their own limitations and began to address them by reverse engineering a number of Boeing B-29s that had crash-landed in eastern Russia into the Tupolev Tu-4 Bull. However, developing a new jet bomber was a different proposition and in 1945 Stalin directed that the three main design bureaus, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Ilyushin study the problem and eventually submit designs. The Sukhoi and Tupolev designs showed little promise and the Ilyushin Il-22 submission, essentially a scaled up version of the German Arado bomber, was little better. The main problem all the design bureaus encountered was the poor performance of the available Russian jet engines, but this problem was about to be solved by one of the most stupid acts every carried out by a British government and the list to choose from is long.

Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle

Soviet engineers knew that Britain and America already had turbojet engines in service far in advance of anything they could develop and so they suggested that Russia approach Britain about the possibility of purchasing a number of Rolls-Royce Derwent and Nene turbojet engines. Stalin never imagined that the British would be stupid enough to sell such advanced technology to Russia, however, he completely under-estimated the capacity of some brainless individuals in the new Labour government to overlook Stalin’s savage internal policies, his annexation and suppression of Eastern Europe and the emerging communist habit of stealing and then copying western technology. Consequently, in an act of almost unbelievable folly, a number of Rolls-Royce Derwent and Nene turbojet engines were sold to Russia. The Nene was just what the Soviets were looking for and was quickly reverse engineered into the Klimov RD-45F engine, an uprated version of which would power the MiG-15 that gave the US and their Allies, including the British, a considerable shock in the skies over Korea.

Ilyushin Il-28 Beagle tail gunner

In 1947 the Ilyushin bureau returned to their Il-22 jet bomber design and with some comprehensive changes, including the replacement of the original four Lyulka TR-1 engines with two Klimov RD-45F engines, submitted the new design as the Il-28. The new design first flew on 8 Jul 48 and was a typical example of fairly crude, but effective Russian engineering. An order for full production was placed in Sep 49 – no less than three state factories would build the new bomber. In May 1950 the new bomber made its first appearance at the annual May Day parade and before long it acquired its new NATO reporting name – Beagle.

The Il-28 Beagle carried a crew of three, a pilot and navigator / bomb aimer sat in the forward compartment and the tail gunner / radio operator sat isolated in the rear compartment under the tail. Whilst the pilot and navigator were at equipped with upward-firing ejection seats, the tail gunner had to manually bail out through a hatch in the event he needed to abandon the aircraft – I imagine there were not many volunteers for duties as a Il-28 tail gunner, but conscription would see to that. For the time the Il-28 Beagle was equipped with a fairly sophisticated avionics suite, including a bomb aiming radar mounted in a bulge under the fuselage. Furthermore, the performance of the Il-28 Beagle was good and the aircraft could cruise at around 400kts, had a ceiling of over 40,000ft and a range of around 1,300 nms.

Ilyushin Il-28R

After Ilyushin had developed a two-pilot trainer version of the Il-28 Beagle, they turned their attention to developing a reconnaissance version known as the Il-28R which first flew on 19 Apr 50. The Il-28R was equipped with a camera suite in the bomb bay, together with mountings for am portside oblique camera in the rear fuselage. Various day or night cameras could be carried and for night photography 12 flares were also carried in the rear of the bomb bay. Fitting a larger fuselage fuel tank, which abutted into the rear of the bomb bay and by adding wingtip tanks, increased the range of the Il-28R. Although the rear tail gunner was retained, the right nose cannon was removed and replaced with camera controls – the bomb aiming radar was also removed. Production of the Il-28R was authorised in late 1951 and it soon entered VVS service. Another unusual version of the Il-28 was the ELINT IL-28RTR, this aircraft was built in small numbers and could be distinguished by a large antenna installed under the faired-over bomb bay. A number of ECM IL-28s were also built and these aircraft were designated the Il-28REB and carried jammers in wingtip pods.

Il-28 at Port Harcourt

The Il-28 was involved in numerous conflicts, but by the 1970s was easy prey to most fighters. One of the least well known conflicts in which the aircraft was involved occurred when four ex-Egyptian and two ex-Soviet examples were operated by a group of Egyptian and Czech mercenaries against the Biafrans during the civil war in Nigeria between 1967 – 1970. However, the aircraft performed poorly, one aircraft overran the runway at Port Harcourt, was damaged beyond effective repair and left in the undershoot to greet new arrivals. The other aircraft suffered from poor servicing and a lack of spares, playing little role in the war - hardly the Il-28 Beagles's finest hour.

Hong H-5

Estimates for the total production of all versions of the IL-28 Beagle vary from 2,000 to 6,000. Several hundred were built under licence in China as the Hong H-5 where it remains in service. In addition, Russia exported the aircraft widely and it saw service with Algeria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Indonesia, North Vietnam, North Korea, Poland and Romania. Most air forces withdrew their ageing Il-28s in the 1980s, but some examples are still flying, a testament to the quality of the original design and the ruggedness of the components.