Say what you like about the Soviet Union, but they did know how to build machines that would run and run and run. The T-34 tank and its successors were stronger and more robust than anything the Nazis could cook up. The AK-47 is still the weapon of choice across the undeveloped world. And in the skies, the Ilyushin Il-76, as unglamorous, lumpy-looking and dogged as a tractor, can lift sixty tonnes of cargo, take off from a football pitch (admittedly a very long one), and land in an Afghan cabbage patch. Long after the fall of the Soviet Union, these features make the Il-76, or the Candid (its NATO codename), the favoured transport plane of the United Nations and the major aid agencies when flying anything into one of the world’s worst places: Somalia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Colombia.
The thing is, if you dump all the boring health and safety bits and some of the less interesting avionics, you can hide a further fifteen tonnes of cargo, much of it under the main cargo floor. So along with the aid, tents, food, and life-giving drugs, you