Procurement: Something That Can't Be Replaced


September 7, 2012: The new (only three prototypes exist) Russian Mi-38 transport helicopter recently set a new altitude record (8,600 meters/28,200 feet) for helicopters in the 10-20 ton class. That's about the only good news the Mi-38 has had lately.

Development of the 14 ton Mi-38 began in the 1990s, with the first flight taking place in 2003. The M-38 can carry up to 30 passengers or five tons of cargo. The Mi-38 was pitched to replace the Mi-8 helicopter still used by the Russian military. The Mi-8 was Russia's 1960s answer to the radical (for the 1950s) American UH-1 ("Huey"). While the UH-1 was replaced by the much improved UH-60 in the 1980s, the Mi-8 has gone through lots of upgrades (to the current Mi-171) but never a new design. Russian industry has a new design, the Mi-38, but no customers. Even the Russian military cannot afford to buy the more expensive Mi-38, which is competitive, in terms of performance, with the UH-60. The upgraded Mi-8/171 still gets the job done, at less than half the cost of the Mi-38.

The Mi-171 is based on the 1970s era Mi-17, which is the export version of original Mi-8. Weighing about 12 tons and carrying a four ton load, the Mi-171 has a range of 590 kilometers at a cruising speed of 250 kilometers per hour. There is a crew of three and as many passengers as can be squeezed in (about 40 people but usually just 20 or so). A sling underneath can also carry up to four tons.

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.  Several hundred Mi-171s have been exported. The helicopter is rugged, inexpensive ($4-5 million each), and better suited for less affluent nations.

Production of the Mi-38 is supposed to begin next year, with most sales efforts directed at the civilian market. Current users of Mi-9 and Mi-171 models would rather upgrade their existing helicopters and continue keeping their costs down.



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