Soviet and Russian helicopters
The Soviet Union got a relatively late
start at developing helicopter technology. After the United States, the
Soviet Union has become the biggest user of helicopters in military and
civilian roles and the biggest exporter of helicopters to other countries.
During the Cold War, NATO gave Soviet helicopters names beginning with the
letter "H," such as Hip, Hook, Hind and Horse, although several different
design bureaus developed them.
As in other countries, early Soviet work
on rotary flight centred upon the autogyro. The first Soviet rotary-wing
aircraft to fly was the KaSkr-1. This craft was designed by Nikolai I.
Kamov, who would later become a primary Soviet helicopter designer, and by
Nikolai Skrzhinsky. The KaSkr-1 was constructed in 1929, and over the next
decade, a number of different Soviet autogyro craft were developed.
Soviet designers were greatly impressed
with the German Fa-61 helicopter developed in the late 1930s and copied
the craft's general layout. Designer Ivan Bratukhin began work on the 2 MG
Omega helicopter in July 1940 and completed work on it by June 1941, just
after the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union. Like the Fa-61, the 2 MG
Omega had two rotors mounted to either side of a main fuselage on
outriggers. Unlike the Fa-61, however, each rotor had its own engine
mounted underneath. Work had to be suspended on the craft while Moscow's
entire aviation industry was forced to move 1,000 miles to the east, away
from the advancing German Army. Although work was resumed and the 2 MG
Omega eventually flew, it suffered severe vibration problems and could not
fly for long or it would shake itself apart in midair.
Bratukhin and Boris N. Yuriev developed
other experimental helicopters over the next several years but were
severely hindered by the Soviet need to build fighter and ground-attack
aircraft. Bratukhin's reliance on the side-by-side rotors also lost
support from the Soviet Air Force, because this design was no longer in
favour among other designers (such as Igor Sikorsky in the United States
and Anton Flettner in Germany) and was too large. After the war ended,
three other designers emerged to lead Soviet helicopter development.
Aleksandr Sergeyevich Yakovlev was born
in Moscow in 1906. By the early 1930s, while designing airplanes, Yakovlev
became a favourite designer of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. During the
war, he designed various fighter planes. In 1944, he began developing a
helicopter that did not fly until 1947. He later built two other
helicopters, including the Yak-24 Horse, which first flew in July 1952 and
was a tandem rotor design like the American Piasecki H-21 "Flying Banana."
The Horse was the largest helicopter in the world at the time. But
Yakovlev soon returned to designing airplanes.
Nikolai Ilyich Kamov was born in 1902 in
Irkutsk, Siberia. By 1929, he had helped build the first Soviet autogyro
and soon designed several more. In 1945, he began designing an ultralight
helicopter designated the Ka-8 "flying motorcycle" because it used a
motorcycle engine. It had coaxial rotors, mounted one on top of the other
and rotating in opposite directions. The Ka-8 did not have enough power to
lift off the ground but soon formed the basis for the slightly larger
Ka-10 Hat, which was used by the Soviet Navy aboard icebreaking ships. All
of Kamov's helicopters, except for one, used this same configuration with
one rotor mounted atop the other and were popular with the Soviet Navy,
primarily because they took up less space on a ship than a more
Ka-25 Hormone was an anti-submarine helicopter with "dipping sonar"
that could be lowered into the water while the helicopter was hovering.
By the late 1960s, Kamov had developed
the Ka-25 Hormone for anti-submarine use. The Ka-25 was short and blocky,
looking somewhat like a lumpy box with windows and rotors. It had two
engines and two counter-rotating three-bladed rotors. The Ka-25 was
equipped with a large radar, a weapons bay, a "dipping sonar" that could
be lowered into the water while the helicopter was hovering, and sonobuoys,
which were small floating sonar devices that could be dropped into the
water and relayed their data to the helicopter by radio.
Ka-32 Helix was an upgraded anti-submarine helicopter that first appeared
Kamov died in 1973, but his design
bureau continued producing helicopters. The Ka-32 Helix, which first
appeared in 1982, was an upgraded anti-submarine helicopter and soon
replaced the Ka-25 in service. During the mid 1990s, Kamov built the Ka-50
Werewolf attack helicopter, which was the first Kamov helicopter developed
for this role. The Ka-50 has only one crewman, which some critics have
claimed is not enough to handle the complex missions of flying the
aircraft and controlling the weapons.
Ka-50 Werewolf attack helicopter was the first Kamov helicopter developed
for this role.
While Kamov designed numerous successful
helicopters, the most important Soviet helicopter designer was Mikhail
Leontevich Mil, who was as crucial to the development of Soviet helicopter
aviation as Sikorsky was to the United States. Mil was born in Irkutsk in
1909. In the late 1930s, he worked as Kamov's deputy designer. In 1947, he
was assigned as the Chief Designer of a new experimental design bureau for
helicopters. He was told to develop a three-seat communications helicopter
for carrying information between army units. He developed the GM-1, which
beat one of Yakovlev's designs and was later re-designated the Mi-1. The
Mi-1 first flew in late 1948. It was extremely successful and was the
first Soviet helicopter to enter large-scale production. In 1951, Mil
started work on the Mi-4 Hound, which surpassed the Mi-1 in performance
The greatest Mil helicopter ever built
was the Mi-8 Hip. The first Mi-8 flew in 1961, and the helicopter entered
production in late 1965. Over 10,000 Mi-8s of many different variants were
produced. The Mi-8 was nearly as popular as the American Bell UH-1 Huey
(of which 15,000 were produced) and was widely exported. The Mi-8 had two
engines and a five-blade main rotor. Its cabin had a rear door that
dropped down to allow people or equipment to be unloaded. It was a big
helicopter, capable of carrying up to 36 fully armed troops.
Mi-8s have been armed with rocket
launchers and anti-tank guided missiles. They have been equipped as
executive transports and as command posts. They have also been fitted as
electronic warfare helicopters with equipment and antennas for jamming
enemy radars and radios. The primary user of the Mi-8 was the Soviet
military, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s, Mil's
production of the Mi-8 dropped from hundreds a year to a few dozen a year,
nearly all for export.
Mil also developed the Mi-24 Hind
assault helicopter, which shared some features with the Mi-8, but was
intended to carry a substantial weapons load. It first flew in 1970. The
Mi-24 was never a totally satisfactory aircraft, and by the late 1980s, in
large part due to its experience in Afghanistan and the success of the
American AH-64 Apache, Mil began developing the two-seat Mi-28 Havoc
attack helicopter to compete with the single-seat Ka-50. The Russian
government chose to build both aircraft in small numbers, hoping for large
orders from foreign countries.
Soviet Mi-8 Hip was the greatest Mil helicopter ever built.
Over 10,000 of many different variants were produced.
In addition to these workhorse
helicopters, Mil also produced some true monster helicopters such as the
Mi-6 Hook and the Mi-10 Harke. The Mi-6, unveiled in November 1957, had
already been flying in secret for several months and was the largest
helicopter in the world. It had already set several unofficial records for
lifting heavy weights. The Mi-6 had a huge, five-bladed main rotor, two
5,500-shaft-horsepower (4,100-kilowatt) turbine engines, a large fuselage,
and wings that provided lift in forward flight. In 1962, a Hook lifted
44,350 pounds (20,117 kilograms)—more than twice as much as its nearest
American competitor, the Sikorsky CH-54 Tahre. The Mi-6 was also
impressively fast. The Soviet Air Force used it to transport artillery and
their crews and ammunition to forward bases, and the helicopter was
exported to Egypt, North Vietnam, and Bulgaria.
The Mi-10 Harke first flew in 1960 and
used the same engine, transmission, hydraulics, and rotor system as the
Mi-6. The main difference was the Mi-10's fuselage, which was smaller and
mounted on tall landing gear, allowing it to carry large loads, such as
un-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), underneath the
fuselage. In 1965, a specially modified Mi-10 lifted a payload of 55,347
pounds (25,105 kilograms) to an altitude of 9, 317 feet (2,840 meters),
setting a new record.
Neither the Mi-6 nor the Mi-10 were
ideal helicopters, and Mil eventually developed the Mi-26 Halo. The Halo
can transport more than 85 fully equipped combat troops and has a
substantial lifting capability. The Mi-26 is still flying today, although
it is no longer in production.
The Soviets have used helicopters in the
skycrane role extensively. This role has been dictated by the vast size of
the Soviet Union—many major construction projects were hundreds of miles
from the nearest town. Mi-6 and Mi-10 helicopters were used to support oil
drilling facilities, construction work, and military outposts in remote
areas. Although the Russians still use helicopters as skycranes, this
activity is much diminished.
The collapse of the Soviet Union has
resulted in a dramatic decrease in the production of Russian helicopters
and their export around the world, but thousands remain in service and
Russian firms continue to try to find export markets for civilian and