Air Transportation: The Arctic Special

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March 14, 2017: The Russian Navy recently received the first of the new arctic version of the Mi-8 helicopter. This model, the Mi-8AMTSh-VA, is equipped to operate in arctic conditions. For example it is capable of starting its engines in temperatures as low as -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit) and continue flying in those temperatures. The navy is to receive three more by 2020. One reason for developing this model was the growing need for this sort of helicopter by commercial firms operating in the arctic. The Mi-8AMTSh-VA also has a navigation system built to handle the low-light conditions common in the arctic, in addition to the low temperatures and high winds. The tech developed for this military helicopter can, and probably will, be adapted to the Mi-17, which has long been the export version of the Mi-8. But since the 1990s there has been more demand for Mi-17s because until recently the Russian military didn’t have the money to buy a lot of new helicopters. That changed after 2000 with a trickle of new helicopters and money to undertake long-overdue update and refurbishment programs.

In 2014 the Russian Air Force received the first four of several hundred updated Mi-8 helicopters. The decision to buy these was made in 2012 and the order was placed in 2013. There are several updated Mi-8 models involved. The first ones delivered were the Mi-8AMTSh. This is described as a "combat assault helicopter" that can be equipped with missiles and autocannon, as well as carry up to 37 troops or four tons of cargo. Among the many improvements are a new engine and mechanical components that are more efficient and easier to maintain. Compared to older Mi-8s the Mi-8AMTSh can go longer (2,000 flight hours compared to 1,500) between overhauls and has a longer service life (35 years versus 25). Operating costs are at least 25 percent less and a lot of this is due to more modern electronics and the incorporation of continuous system monitoring systems found in most new automobiles. Another new model, the Mi-8MTV5-1, has new engines that enable it to operate at high and hot altitudes (which are difficult conditions for helicopters).

Rather than seek out and buy a new medium transport helicopter design, Russia is continuing the decades old policy of upgrades and improvements to the original Mi-8 design. This has made the Mi-8 a reliable and affordable choice for armed forces around the world and in Russia itself (which currently has about 600 Mi-8s in the air force alone). Currently there are over 8,000 Russian helicopters in service in 110 countries worldwide. The most common Russian model is the Mi-8 and its export variants, the Mi-17.

The basic Mi-8 is a twin-engine helicopter that is a contemporary of the U.S. UH-1 of the 1960s. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely exported (a quarter of the 12,000 made) helicopter on the planet. The Mi-8 is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1 but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. The UH-60, while weighing ten tons (compared to UH-1's 4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 13 ton Mi-8. But the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60 and the larger interior is popular with many users.

 

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