Cold War – Soviet Helicopters II

Attack Helicopters

As a result of the success of U. S. helicopter gunships in Vietnam, other nations, especially the USSR, realized the need for armed helicopters. Soviet military doctrine, however, had no place for a helicopter dedicated specifically to the gunship role. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the USSR had armed the Mi-8 Hip and its export version, the Mi-17, but the Red Air Force demanded a fast, heavily armed helicopter to fill the role of the Sturmovik ground support fighter of World War II, or an airborne equivalent of a main battle tank. On September 19, 1969, the Mil Bureau responded with the prototype Mi-24 Hind A.

To produce the first model Hind A (NATO designation), Mil modified the fuselage of the Mi-8 but used the same two TV2-117 1,482-horsepower turboshafts and five-bladed main and three-bladed tailrotor system of the Hip. Mil installed the retractable tricycle landing gear of the Mi-14 and the antidihedral wings of the Mi-6 for weapon installation. The Hind’s cockpit that went into flight testing in 1970 resembled a World War II bomber, with a multipaned canopy and a 12.7-mm machine gun in the nose. The pilots sat side by side on a four-place bench seat behind the gunner’s position, which resulted in poor visibility. The Hind A carried a crew of three and up to eight combat-loaded troops, who could fire their individual weapons through windows in the cargo compartment. Weapons on the wing stores included four to eight AT-2 Swatter ATGMs and two to four 57-mm rocket pods. If not transporting troops the Hind held four litters and a medic, or carried a second basic load of rockets and missiles internally. The heavily armored Hind A, according to the Mil Bureau, posted a speed record of 198.72 knots during testing. The West first saw the Hind A in Eastern Europe in 1972, with “V” and “C” models appearing in succeeding years.

In 1975, Western intelligence services discovered the radically redesigned Mi-24D. A new stepped tandem cockpit with bulletproof bubble canopies provided greater visibility for the pilot and copilot/gunner, who sat in the forward cockpit, just behind and above a YaKB-12 four-barreled heavy machine gun mounted in a chin turret capable of a 120-degree traverse. Two Isotov TV-3-117 2,200-horsepower turbines, installed in the upper section of the 57-foot, 8-inch fuselage, powered the all-metal 56-foot, 9-inch main and 12-foot, 9.5-inch tailrotors. With a wingspan of 21 feet, 4 inches, the new Hind exhibited a range of 245 nautical miles with a normal load, and a maximum ceiling of 14,700 feet at a maximum gross weight of 26,455 pounds. Without weapons the aircraft could haul a 5,500- pound slingload. In addition to armored seats, applique armor surrounded the cockpit as well as critical oil and fuel supplies. Wingstores included ATGMs, 57- or 80-mm rocket pods, or free-fall bombs.

The Mi24D began to appear in significant numbers in Soviet units in 1976, and in Warsaw Pact countries shortly afterward. Production records indicated that about fifteen Hinds a month rolled off the Mil assembly lines. At the time the Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1980, more than 1,000 Mi-24s were in service, and the Hind became a symbol of that war, much like the Huey in Vietnam. Although Mil upgraded the Hind with lighter, more efficient composite rotor blades, yokes, and hubs, aircraft limitations affected the successful employment of the Hind in the rarified air of the Afghan mountains. The wings provided 22 to 28 percent of the helicopter’s lift, requiring pilots to maintain minimum forward airspeeds or the helicopter would experience unmanageable roll rates in tight turns; nor could the heavily loaded machines hover at the high altitudes encountered, sometimes 18,000 feet. Although ruggedly designed, the Hind’s transmission, and especially the tailrotor gearbox, rapidly overheated at a hover without the cooling effect of airflow through cooling vents. As a result the Hind pilots mimicked U. S. Army tactics from Vietnam and flew in pairs, or multiples of pairs, making running fire attacks on their mujahideen adversaries. The Hind pilots relied on speed and armor to survive. They attacked at 140 knots, blasted the target area, and pulled away in tight turns.

Soviet tactics overall replicated U. S. tactics in Vietnam. Mi-8 and Mi-17s, escorted by Mi-24s, lifted large numbers of troops to air as sault into remote areas to attack mujahideen soldiers in their sanctuaries. Hind pilots also frequently flew “roadrunner missions,” escorting vulnerable convoys moving along winding mountain roads. Afghani rebels called the Mi-24 the “Devil’s Chariot” because of the heavy firepower the Hind brought to the battlefield. The Hind pilots called themselves “Grey Wolves.”

Ground fire downed several other types of helicopters, but the heavily armored Mi-24s remained almost impervious to most weapons, except Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). To escape the volleys of RPGs most Soviet helicopter crews flew at higher altitude until 1985, when the CIA introduced the U. S.-manufactured Stinger missiles through Pakistan. The highly effective Stinger, with a maximum range of 15,000 feet, forced the helicopters back down where small arms again began to take a toll of Soviet aircraft. The rebels claimed that all they needed to defeat the invaders was the Koran and more Stingers. The USSR lost hundreds of aircraft and at least 15,000 aircrewmen in the Afghanistan War. The mujahideen claimed to have downed more than 200 Mi-24s alone. Several captured Hind crews were skinned alive because of the death and destruction they wrought on rebel villages. In 1987, Soviet engineers equipped their helicopters with flare dispensers, but the Stingers continued to bring down helicopters until the last Soviets departed Afghanistan in February 1989.

On November 10, 1982, the Mil OKB began testing the Mi-28 Havoc, intended to replace the Hind. With its stepped, two-place tandem cockpit, two Klimov TV-3-117VM, 2,200-horsepower turboshafts installed externally on either side of a long, slim fuselage, and a large tailfin mounting an asymmetrical X-shaped tailrotor, the Mi-28 bore a great resemblance to the AH-64 Apache. A nose radome housed a laser rangefinder and radar. A 56-foot, 5-inch five-bladed composite main rotor provided lift for Mil’s new attack helicopter. Smaller than the Mi24 at a maximum gross weight of 24,500 pounds, the Havoc, nonetheless, packed a significant wallop. Typical armament included a chin turret mounting an A42 30-mm cannon, sixteen AT-6 or AT-9 ATGMs, and forty S-8 rockets or two GSh- 23 23-mm cannons on the stub wings. The wings also held ECM pods at their tips. For some time the Havoc created quite a stir among Western intelligence operatives, as well as helicopter pilots, but the Mi-28 failed to live up to its hype of a fully aerobatic attack helicopter. Never placed in full production, the Mi-28’s maximum speed appeared to be around 160 knots and its range 250 nautical miles. In the mid-1990s Mil introduced the Mi-28N with a mastmounted FLIR for enhanced night operations, but the Russian military seemed inclined toward the Kamov Ka-50 Hokum as its primary attack helicopter. To date the Mil bureau has not been able to find foreign customers for the Havoc.

In 1982 a prototype of a revolutionary Soviet attack helicopter appeared that sent chills through most NATO helicopter pilots. The Kamov Ka-50A Blackshark, designated Hokum by NATO, looked as much like a single-seat jet fighter as it did a helicopter. Although U. S. Army generals denied any necessity for air-to-air capabilities in Army helicopters, and USAF generals promised protection from all low-flying aircraft, the Ka-50A negated both assumptions. Two Klimov TV3-117VMA 2,200-horsepower turboshafts, installed on either side of the slim 44-foot, 3-inch fuselage just above the wingroots, powered the 45-foot, 7-inch three-bladed, swept-tipped polymeric coaxial rotors, which also incorporated an electric deicing system. The fuselage, constructed of more than one-third composites, including a kevlar/nomex armored keel, ended in a fixed-wing type empennage and held the retractable tricycle landing gear. IR suppressers covered the engine exhausts, and OKB equipped the aircraft with IR jammers, radar warning receivers, and chaff/flare dispensers. A fully armored seat protected the pilot from 23-mm rounds, and the flat-plate canopy deflected anything up to 12.7-mm fire. A Zvezda K-37-800 pilot ejection system allowed the pilot to eject from the Ka-50 at low airspeeds and altitudes. Explosive bolts separated the rotor blades from the bearingless hub at the initiation of the ejection sequence.

Designed as an antitank/antihelicopter aircraft, the fully aerobatic Hokum carried a variety of weapon systems. Acquisition and targeting systems included low-light television and laser rangefinders/designators linked to a satellite navigation system and automatic pilot that allowed the Hokum pilot to engage targets at ranges over 10 kilometers. A helmet sighting system and heads-up display (HUD) allowed the pilot to focus his attention outside the cockpit while flying in adverse conditions or operating the weapons systems. The fire control computers allowed the pilot to engage targets outside his visual range, and a digital downlink provided the target data to a ground control center. For day/night, all-weather operations the Ka- 50N, sometimes called the Nightshark, or more popularly Werewolf, carried a nose-mounted FLIR and millimeter-wave radar in an EO (electro-optic) underwing pod, and the cockpit had an additional MFD. Capable of carrying more than 5,000 pounds of ordnance on the wingstores, the Ka-50 could be armed with up to sixteen AT-9 Vikhr antitank missiles, with two 20-round S-8 80-mm FFAR pods, and 500 rounds, mixed HE and AP, for the 2A42 30-mm cannon, the same gun mounted on the BMP-2. The enhanced version of the supersonic 125-mm Vikhr missile depended on radar guidance during launch and laser guidance for target designation. The two-stage shaped-charge warhead penetrated armor up to 900 mm.

Making the AT-9 even more deadly, the Ka-50 pilot, by a flick of a switch, could engage aircraft flying at up to 450 knots with the AT-9. Twin 23-mm cannon pods, AS-12 Kegler guided missiles, AA-11 Archer and IGLA-V, Needle C, AAMs, and 1,000-pound bombs also appeared on test aircraft. The Ka-50A attained a known speed of 188 knots and reportedly reached a maximum range of 650 nautical miles with auxiliary fuel tanks, and 240 nautical miles with maximum ordnance load. Reported service ceiling was just over 18,000 feet. With the demise of the USSR, the Hokum failed to reach full production by 2000, but the Russian Air Force intended to acquire two aircraft per year for fourteen years, depending on available funding.

Naval Helicopters

In 1973 the Soviet Aviation Ministry issued directives to develop an attack/assault transport helicopter for support of naval infantry and amphibious operations. OKB Kamov’s Deputy Chief Designer S. N. Fomin led the program with leading designer G. M. Danilochkin and leading engineer B. V. Barshevsky as his chief assistants. On July 28, 1976, test pilot Y. I. Laryushin lifted the Ka-29 prototype off on its first flight. The design bureau completed all acceptance trials by May 1979 and placed the Ka-29 Helix B in full production in 1984.

Based on the Ka-27 Helix, OKB widened the fuselage and revamped the forward section with a five-piece flat windscreen and blunt nose, which housed a FLIR/TV sighting system and a new search/targeting radar. Armament stations included a fixed multiple-barreled 7.62-mm machine gun under the right side fuselage, and winglets on which to mount a variety of weapons. Two Klimov (Isotov) TV3-117V 2,190-horsepower turboshafts turned two typical Kamov three-bladed 52-foot, 2-inch coaxial rotors, which allowed the Ka-29 to take off at a maximum gross weight of 27,775 pounds. This translated into two pilots and up to sixteen combat-loaded troops, or four litters and six seated patients with two attendants in the air ambulance modification, or an 8,800-pound slingload. Typical weapons loaded on the Ka-29TB attack version included four 57- or 80-mm rocket pods, or two rocket pods and two four-round clusters of AT-6 Spiral ASMs. In addition to a 30-mm cannon mounted above the left wing, the helicopter could also be armed with submunition dispensers (CBUs) or conventional free-fall bombs. In several comparison tests with the Mi-24D Hind, the Ka-29TB, because of the almost vibrationless rotor system, proved almost twice as effective at placing its ordnance on target as the Hinds.

The pilots enjoyed the communications and electronics suite provided in the new Helix B. These systems included a Doppler radar, and later GPS, navigational system, integrated with computerized displays of flight and targeting information incorporated into a modern cockpit layout. All versions cruised at 125 knots with a maximum airspeed of 151 knots, and a maximum range of 400 nautical miles. The Soviet Navy planned on a combat radius of 54 nautical miles, including six to eight attack passes for the Ka-29TB.

In the early 1980s the Soviet Union provided ASW helicopters to other countries. With the advent of the Ka-29 the USSR sold the Ka-28, a downgraded export version of the Ka-27, to India, Ukraine, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The Ka-28 carried a dipping sonar, disposable sonobuoys, and wire-guided torpedoes, or depth charges, but not the latest in electronic submarine detection gear. The Soviets sold their allies an upgraded version of the equipment carried by the Ka-27, but not the advanced electronics installed on the Ka-29 Helix.

On October 8, 1980, a prototype medium lift multipurpose version of the Ka-27 also appeared. Intended as a commercial helicopter and known as the Ka-32 Helix C, it had two Klimov TV3117V 2,190-horsepower turboshafts that turned the same counter-rotating three-blade main rotors installed on the Ka-29. The several versions of the Ka-32 also had the wider fuselage of the Ka-29, indicating a probable developmental link between the two machines.

A pilot and navigator crewed the Ka-32T transport version, which accommodated sixteen passengers, or an internal load of 8,820 pounds, or an 11,000-pound slingload. The Helix C appeared in passenger/cargo transport, air ambulance, fire-fighting, police, flying crane, and SAR versions. The Ka32K featured a retractable underfuselage gondola for a second pilot to fly the aircraft while picking up or delivering bulky slingloads. The Ka-32S SAR helicopter included a search radar, as well as advanced flight and navigation instrumentation for IFR and maritime operations. The Russian government and commercial operators also made use of the Ka-32S in offshore oil explorations. Without a slingload the Ka-132 attained a maximum airspeed of 135 knots and a range of 430 nautical miles without auxiliary fuel. Although described as a commercial helicopter, and sold or leased to several foreign countries, Ka-32s in Aeroflot colors were photographed operating from the decks of vessels belonging to the Russian Navy.

As the economy of the USSR decayed, Soviet, then Russian, industries began to seek civil and foreign markets for their products. In October 1988, Kamov introduced the first of fifteen civilian variants of the Ka-126 derived from the naval Ka-26 Hoodlum. The Ka- 126 featured a modular concept to rapidly convert the light, multipurpose helicopter to accomplish several diversified missions. Wide use of composites in both the traditional three-bladed coaxial rotors and fuselage lightened the aircraft, which resulted in increased load capacity and range. A single TVO-100 720-horsepower turboshaft, mounted above the cabin, provided power to lift a pilot and six passengers, or an internal cargo load of 2,200 pounds. The 126 cruised at 90 knots and attained a service ceiling of 15,250 feet. Kamov intended the Ka-126 to fulfill EMS, police, passenger/cargo transport, and geological/oil survey roles. The agricultural version, designed especially for crop spraying, was equipped with a cockpit air filtration system to prevent toxic chemicals from entering the flight deck. Kamov installed a 722-horsepower Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 turboshaft in one export version of the helicopter.

Combat Service Support

The Mil design bureau holds the distinction of designing and building the largest helicopter placed into full production. The Mi-26 Halo, with a maximum gross weight of 123,650 pounds, corresponds in size to a Boeing 737. Designed as a heavy lift military transport to replace the Mi-12, the huge machine was capable of hauling a 45,000-pound payload or seventy fully equipped troops. The Halo, however, became most successful as a civilian helicopter, earning fame by resupplying remote Siberian villages and oil camps; fighting forest fires throughout the world; and providing a mobile crane for construction of high-rise buildings, bridges, or pipelines in remote areas.

First flown on December 14, 1977, the Halo had an aerodynamic pod and boom fuselage that measured 131 feet, 4 inches in length, with a spacious cockpit for the crew of four forward, and large clamshell doors aft. The Halo lacked the wings of the Mi-12, depending on an advanced rotor design for all its lift. Powered by two Lotarev D-136 5,620-horsepower turboshafts mounted atop the fuselage, driving a 104-foot, 11.5-inch eight-bladed main and fivebladed composite tailrotors, the Halo reached a service ceiling of 15,000 feet. In a clean configuration, without an external load, the Mi-26 was capable of a maximum speed of 160 knots, usually cruising at 135 knots, with a normal range of 360 nautical miles. With internal ferry tanks the range increased to 1,100 miles, permitting the big machine to self-deploy over long distances. The helicopter rested on a very robust fixed tricycle landing gear. Mil produced at least 550 Mi-26s, improving the machine’s performance and versatility, with the most current variants incorporating engines up to 8,500 horsepower each, more efficient rotor systems, and digitized glass cockpits. The MJ-26 boasted a 100-troop capacity, improved rotor blades, and a flight director with an autohover mode. The Mi- 26T “flying crane” included a modified flight deck with a second pilot position and stabilization system for lifting and depositing cumbersome external loads. In a firefighting role the Mi-26 carried up to 4,400 gallons of water in two large buckets. India bought twenty Mi-26 export versions, and Ukrainian Haloes, under UN colors, served in Bosnia. Several countries used the Halo on a contract basis for construction projects and for fighting large fires.

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