Thailand is buying three new
Russian Mi-17 helicopters for about $9 million each, and backing off a $28
million project to refurbish fifteen of its U.S. made Bell 212s (civilian
version of the UH-1 "Huey"). Thailand has nearly 200 American made
helicopters, but most are over twenty years old, and about half of them are out
of action waiting for repairs at any given time.
The Mi-17 is
the export version of the Mi-8, a twin-engine helicopter, roughly equivalent to
the U.S. UH-1. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely
exported (2,800 out of 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 had 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. But the UH-60, while weighing as much as the UH-1 (4.8 tons), could
carry as much as the 12 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. Russia also offers
lower rates for training pilots and mechanics.