Nobody beats the Russians when it comes to rotorcraft “bigness.” Mil unveiled the Mi-12 in 1971 and later hoisted a record-setting 44 tons to more than 7,000 ft with the massive (115-ton mtow) twin-rotor helo.
More recently, since its introduction in 1981, the Russian-made Mil Mi-26 has reigned supreme as the heaviest cargo-lifting production rotorcraft, routinely hoisting loads weighing up to 22 tons.
The nearest thing in the Western world is Sikorsky’s CH-53E, with a max internal load capability of 15 tons, but that distinction might be set to change. Speaking at a recent rotorcraft forum in Bristol, England, Sikorsky advanced development director Chris Van Buiten took some of the wraps off the company’s new Heavy Lift Helicopter (HLH), a design that would be that manufacturer’s biggest to date. Intended for use by the proposed European Rapid Reaction Force, the new helo would have a 10- to 13-metric-ton payload, a 260-nm radius of action, unprecedented internal volume, 1,050 to 1,550-nm self-deployment range, air transportability via Airbus’ high-volume Beluga cargo lifter, rapid internal load securing and internal transport of light armored vehicles. In short, it would be a bigger helo with roughly the same payload as the CH-53E, and bigger internal dimensions. The basic HLH would consist of a marriage of the propulsion dynamics of the upgraded edition of the CH-53E Sikorsky is proposing for use by the U.S. Marine Corps, lifting an all-new, all-composite and much larger fuselage designed and built by the European industry. Van Buiten indicated that a solution along these lines would be much cheaper than developing an all-new helicopter, which he said would cost $4- to $5 billion and take 10 years.