I am not a short man and I am also not a very rich man, so flying is an exercise in pain for me. Of course, that’s unless my flight is on an Ilyushin Il-76 (NATO callsign: Candid) strategic airlifter. If I’m on a Candid, the only seat for me is right underneath the cockpit behind the panoramic windows of the navigator’s post. I’ll accept no substitute.
Flown for the first time in 1971, the Il-76 was the Soviet Union’s answer to America’s Lockheed C-141A Starlifter. Unlike the Starlifter, though, this plane (both larger and more powerful than its Western counterpart) had a bit of a wider mandate. According to William Green and Gordon Swanborough’s ever-useful Observer’s Soviet Aircraft Directory, the Il-76 needed to be able to operate under the harsh conditions of Siberia, supporting military activities and industrial projects alike, and oftentimes that meant landing on short, rough, or difficult to spot runways and landing strips. To help make sure the plane landed safely at its destination, Ilyushin Design Bureau designed the plane with a glass chin. Behind the array of chin-mounted windows that would not look out of place on the observation deck of an airship, a crew-member could help the pilot find a suitable site for landing by sight.
In the past, many larger planes were designed to provide crews with visibility, but as radar and radio contact made landings easier to coordinate landings this feature fell out of fashion. The engineers who designed the Il-76 envisioned the plane as an important link to rural communities marred by difficult weather conditions, researchers in remote locations, and conflict zones where communications might be difficult so they decided to keep the navigation post, and I’m glad they did because it affords us views like this:
Even after the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan ended, the Il-76 has remained a common sight at Afghani airstrips like the one where this plane landed in Kabul. The plane continues to be favored by defense contractors (and many air forces) for its durability and high payload capacity in addition to the navigational advantages provided by the lower deck.