On October 27th, Genrikh Novozhilov would have celebrated 95the anniversary. He was one of a brilliant assemblage of legendary Russian aircraft constructors who brought glory to the country. In 1948, as a young graduate of the Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI) he was assigned to the Design Bureau of Sergey Ilyushin, an outstanding Soviet aircraft designer. He immediately joined the development of the IL-14, IL-46, IL-40 and IL-54 aircraft.
In 16 years, Novozhilov became the Chief Designer and Deputy CEO. By his own admission, he really admired Ilyushin, the then CEO. Exactly half a century ago, in the summer of 1970, Petr Dementiev, then Minister of Aviation Industry, brought an order of the USSR Council of Ministers on appointing Novozhilov Chief Designer of the bureau. As Novozhilov recalled later, when leaving CEO’s post for health reasons, Ilyushin who had founded the bureau, said that he was delegating the post to his disciple with no regret or doubt.
Novozhilov never let Ilyushin down. He personally took part in creating and testing of the celebrated aircraft like IL-18 and IL-62. Under the leadership of Novozhilov, the first IL-76 heavy-lift turbofan, IL-86 and IL-96 air buses took wing. At the turn of the 21st century, the new aircraft IL-114 and IL-103 were designed. Genrikh Novozhilov, a corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences who was twice awarded the title of the Hero of Socialist Labour and was decorated with the Order of Lenin three times, who contributed to the Soviet and world aviation. Everyone who had a chance to speak with him was amazed not only by his outstanding performance in the workplace but also by his ability to listen to a person whom he was talking to. In addition, he also had a very respectful attitude towards reporters and called journalism a very important profession.
Since I have met Novozhilov many times, I can state with confidence that he kept positive regard to the last. However, he was very upset that in front of his eyes the Russian aviation industry was losing its leading position in the world. In one of the interviews a few years before his death, he clearly defined the reason for this: “Alas, the leaders of our industry are not experts in the sector they are in charge of.”
At the end of his life Novozhilov dreamed of commercializing the production of the new IL-114 and IL-103 turboprops that made maiden flights on the cusp of the centuries. Despite his solid age, he was going to design other planes as well. However, life had other ideas.
Novozhilov spoke with bitterness about the situation around the Russian aviation industry. According to him, it was in the dead end of the runway with no take-off in sight. “In his advanced years he managed to succeed in a lot of things,” says a text on the forum dedicated to Novozhilov’s departure of from life. “A few years ago, we started building a copy of the IL-2 in Samara. Though Novozhilov no longer worked in the Design Bureau as Deputy CEO, he managed to take all the production drawings (weighing all 130 kg placed into 55 folders) from the archives of the bureau, which is now called the Ilyushin Aviation Complex. Novozhilov personally handed them over to the person responsible for the construction of the aircraft.
“Out of all the aircraft of the IL brand I especially like the IL-18 designed by Sergey Ilyushin,” said Novozhilov. “This turboprop is brilliant, both in terms of its flight characteristics and cost effectiveness. I recall one case. In the area of Paphos, a city of Cyprus, four engines of IL-18 piloted by a crew of the Romanian airline Tarom failed one after the other. Afterwards it would be found that the aircraft was filled with fuel of poor quality diluted with water. The fourth engine failed when the shore was just 30 km away. However, the pilots managed to make wheels-up landing on unpaved terrain. When we arrived, we saw an almost intact aircraft. Only the lower fuselage and bent screws were damaged. Then, an English newspaper even published an article that the Romanian crew had set a world range record for the longest flight distance on the heaviest glider...” Certainly, all of us remember another aircraft made under the direct leadership of Novozhilov. Namely, the first Soviet wide-body IL-86 jet. It is memorable not only for its increased comfort and capacity but also for its unique safety. For more than 30-year history of operation of the plane there were no accidents with fatalities. For this fact it has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Surprisingly, Novozhilov was not a typical haughty official sticking to his chair by the power of administrative responsibilities and buttoned up. He eagerly told us that he was fond of photography since his childhood. Even when he applied to Moscow Aviation Institute (MAI), he thought whether he should enroll for studies at the Institute of Cinematography. Interestingly, the Design Bureau still keeps thick albums with Novozhilov's photographs depicting individual structural elements of various aircraft. He was also keen on playing tennis. “I put the rackets aside when I realized that my health did not allow me any longer to keep the shape I was once proud of,” he said.
Novozhilov was a big fan of music and theater. In the company of pioneering dancers and singers he learned to play jazz flute, an exotic musical instrument. Actually, he said, it was a simple whistle flute made of a 25-30 cm long tube. The tone quality of it was changed by a piston moving inside.
IL-96-300 takeoff from the Central Airfield
Genrikh Novozhilov passed away in late April 2019 at the age of 94. As always, Russia was concerned about the endless headache of recovering from the economic crisis. To put it bluntly, the death of Novozhilov, the last meister of the Russian aviation industry, who had devoted more than seventy (!) years of his life to the Design Bureau, his brainchild, remained largely unnoticed. It is still unclear why Novozhilov, the outstanding Russian aircraft designer of the IL-76 hauler and the IL-86 wide-body jet, was denied a burial place at Novodevichy memorial cemetery in Moscow, where his colleagues Tupolev, Myasishchev, Mikoyan, Yakovlev, Sukhoi, and Lavochkin are buried. Meanwhile, even the incumbent Russian President himself flies on an IL-96, the most reliable plane in the world aviation that was designed by Novozhilov. When he was buried at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery in Mytishchi, a township in the Moscow region, three IL-76MD military transport planes flew over his grave to the strains of the National Anthem and with gun salute. Those were the same planes that participated in the general rehearsal of the part of the military parade on the occasion of the Great Victory, which commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany. The military pilots gave the highest military honors to Novozhilov, a civilian who devoted his life to serving his homeland and strengthening its defense capabilities. Recently, in Mytishchi, the colleagues have commemorated Novozhilov with the grand opening of the monument at his grave.
They say that a person is alive as long as he or she is remembered. In order to make sure that it is true one can read the pilots' opinions on the merits of at least one of Novozhilov’s brainchildren, the IL-76 cargo carrier, on the Internet. This jumbo took off for on a maiden flight on March 25, 1971 from the Central Aerodrome in Moscow. It is known that Novozhilov signed the flight manifest right on the hood of his Volga car that day. Since then, it has become a tradition. Flight lists for each next new plane were signed by the Design Bureau of Sergey Ilyushin on the hood of the car. In these years, almost a thousand IL-76s have been built. The family has numerous modifications. A very large number of aircraft have been sold abroad. Novozhilov liked to recall the words of his teacher Ilyushin: “A designer is praised by his aircraft.”
Chances are the legendary plane will be used for a long time. It is no coincidence that this machine was nicknamed “smiling” for the shape of its navigator's cabin glazing. The Design Bureau, which was once headed by Genrikh Novozhilov, the maestro of the aviation industry, cares always not only for the reliability of the aircraft but also for their beautiful form.