These Rare Images Show A Soviet Il-38 Maritime Patrol Aircraft Flying in U.S. Navy Markings

Il-38 in US Navy markings
The Soviet Il-38 in US Navy markings.

Take a look at these rare shots of a real Il-38 Dolphin of the Soviet Naval Aviation painted with US insignias.

The following images of an Il-38 in U.S. Navy markings were brought to my attention by writer Miguel Vargas-Caba. Author of “Bear: Flight to Liberty”, during research for his novels, Miguel has acquired an extensive collection of Soviet and Russian articles, videos, documentaries, books, hundreds of photos, etc., illustrating the Soviet Armed Forces during the Cold War, as well as the Russian Armed Forces of today.

Among the material he has collected, there are the following images (probably stills taken from a video) depicting a real Il-38 Dolphin of the Soviet Naval Aviation painted with U.S. Navy insignias for a Soviet movie called “Incident at Square 36-80” made in 1982 by Mosfilm.

Mystery Airplane of the US Navy - 1 BW

“The movie was about “an American nuclear sub” that got in troubles and threatens to blow up and contaminate the ocean. Before the sub sank, the Soviet Navy comes to the rescue of the unfortunate, stranded American sailors, and saves the day.

Mystery Airplane of the US Navy - 2 BW

A nice, if somewhat prophetic movie, although on the wrong side. In October 1986 Soviet submarine K-219 (seen in the movie “The Widow Maker” with Harrison Ford) had an accident onboard, when one of its torpedos blew up, causing it to sink. One happened in fiction, the other, for real.

Mystery Airplane of the US Navy - 3 BW

The Il-38 (largely based on the original Il-18 turboprop airliner) is a maritime patrol aircraft and anti-submarine warfare aircraft designed in the Soviet Union.

The current Il-38N or Il-38SD is the improved variant of the baseline Il-38 aircraft. The main difference between the Il-38 and Il-38N is that the latter is equipped with the Leninets Novella-P-39 and Sea Dragon systems whichintegrate several sensors, including a radar for detecting aerial and surface targets; radio sonobuoy system; a MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector) with a range up to 900m; an EO (Electro-Optical) turret with TV, IR, imaging, laser rangefinder and automatic target tracking; ESM (Electronic Support Measures) with sensors hosted in a circular pattern in a box fairing located over the forward section of the fuselage.

About David Cenciotti 4426 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.


  1. Even if you don’t recognize the aircraft, the position of the U.S. Navy markings is off, as are the proportions of the U.S. insignia (a point often missed on restored and museum aircraft in the U.S!). Clearly from a movie or training film.

  2. Hm. I suppose the USA never lost a sub by accident? All fiction, eh?
    Sorry, David, I really think you ought to know better and that you could have more even-handed in this post.
    Ten seconds on the net gave me four USN subs lost in accidents:
    USS Cochino (SS-345)
    USS Scorpion (SSN-589)
    USS Stickleback (SS-415)
    USS Thresher (SSN-593)

    • Hmm, Ten seconds on the web showed me that the US has lost only 2 ” nuclear ” subs. The Stickleback & Cochino were not nuclear. On the other hand Soviet Union / Russia has lost 6 nuclear subs and thats not counting K-429 that sank twice but was raised each time.

      K-27 November class

      K-8 November class

      K-219 Yankee 1 class

      K-278 Komsomolets

      K-141 Kursk Oscar 2 class

      K-159 decommissioned under tow November class

      Maybe his post was even-handed ?

  3. The Widowmaker was about the K-19 (which had reactor failure in 1961), not the K-219.

  4. The Widowmaker movie was about the K-19 (which had reactor failure in 1961), not the K-219.

  5. Is that the faded ghost of a red star I see on the underside of the port wing, just outboard of the engine?

    • Probably covered it with water-based paint. You can’t really see it in the movie itself.

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