Russian helo designs struggle to enter market

 - August 5, 2008, 7:04 AM

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”–Sir Winston Churchill, radio speech, 1939.

What was a trenchant observation when the great British statesman made it 64 years ago is still true, especially as regards to that nation’s aircraft industry. Awash in talented, highly trained engineers with heads bursting with ideas, budgets full of cobwebs and dust, factories full of rust and formerly captive markets suddenly enthralled with the shinier, higher-tech goods of the West, the design bureaus of the former Soviet Union found themselves in a completely new situation, that of a commercial entity trying to make its way in an increasingly competitive and economically turbulent world.

The first few Farnborough and Paris airshows following the demise of the old Soviet Union were replete with the fruit of these Russian designers’ imaginations. Detailed tabletop models and elegantly executed artist’s conceptions abounded. Some were flagrant copies of Western projects, others bold new departures from previous visions.

Right away, economic Darwinism set in and the weakest designs began to fall by
the wayside. Included in this category were ground-effect airships intended to skim the waves at hundreds of miles per hour while patrolling for enemy warships or whisking tourists away to Black Sea resorts, and small personal helicopters of the kind that would make Frank Robinson’s dream of the ideal world come true.

Emerging from this haze of delayed schedules, fitful capitalization and intermittent demand from a handful of cash-strapped operators have struggled a few survivors.

President John F. Kennedy was fond of quoting an ancient Irish saying, “Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.” The truth of that expression is perhaps best expressed in the somewhat less than forthcoming attitude Russian airframers have toward inquiries regarding developing projects. What follows is the result of some persistent digging by AIN’s man in Moscow.



Kamov continues flight tests of its Ka-60 and Ka-226 despite cash shortages that have repeatedly delayed progress with these programs.

The Ka-60 and its multi-role military cousin, the Ka-62, are designed to replace existing Russian military light-transport helicopters, such as the technically dated Mi-8. The Ka-60 has a roomy cabin capable of accommodating 14 passengers. In a conventional configuration much like Eurocopter’s Dauphin twins with a main rotor and fenestron tail-mounted anti-torque system, the new helicopter can carry up to 5,510 pounds via external sling or up to 4,400 pounds of ordnance on detachable pylons on each side of the fuselage. It can cruise at 149 knots, and its maximum speed is 162 knots. Maximum range without auxiliary tanks is 332 nm.

The second Ka-60 prototype, now under assembly at the Lapik production plant in Lukhovitsy, near Moscow, is being outfitted with 1,282-shp NPO Saturn RD600V engines. Unlike the first prototype constructed at Kamov’s experimental factory in Lukhovitsy, this second prototype is the first simplified Ka-60U trainer for the Russian air force.

Use of Klimov VK1500V turboshafts, powerplants that acquired their Russian certification earlier this year, is under consideration, Kamov design bureau chief Vineamin Kasyannikov told AIN. The GE CT9 remains under consideration for export civil variants that would follow once the military Ka-60 is certified. The RD600V has a 10,000-hour design life, built-in inlet particle separator, intermediate reduction gear with a freewheel clutch, health-monitoring system and FADEC.

State funding for the program “is in place, but it is sufficient only to keep it afloat,” Kasyannikov said. He reported problems with outfitting the Ka-60U prototype with avionics and systems due to funding shortages. Structurally almost complete, the prototype was slated to fly last year but today sits idle, awaiting the necessary cash for critical components.


The Ka-226 medium twin continues certification flight tests begun in 1997 with the four machines built so far at Kamov’s experimental factory. The basic version with two 450-shp Rolls-Royce 250-C20R engines is the certification standard, while a variant with Turboméca Arrius-2 engines will also be offered. “Currently, the flight-test program is suffering from a cash shortage. The date of its completion depends on cash flow,” Kasyannikov said. Russia’s Ministry for Emergencies (MChS) funds the effort, but not on a scale that allows development to move forward at a consistent, reliable pace.

Ironically, MChS senior brass recently expressed unhappiness with the slow progress, complaining that Kamov was not interested in investing its own R&D funds in the Ka-226. MChS threatened to shift its support to Kazan Helicopters’ Ansat program, a promising fly-by-wire light twin that has been widely praised as the best conceived, and more likely to succeed, of the recent Russian designs.

For their part, Kamov management defended its seeming lack of enthusiasm, explaining that the Ka-31 radar early warning helicopter is demanding a high workload. Deliveries of this design to the Indian navy began late last year and are generating badly needed cash for the company.

Kamov had no other recent sales, except for one Ka-32A11BC (compliant with FAR Part 29) that went to Canada earlier this year to supplement two aircraft on logging operations. Talks continue with South Korea on further Ka-32 deliveries to increase the Korean fleet of the helicopters from 36 to more than 50.

A fire-fighting version of the Ka-32 will be offered to Australia, “but we need clear tender terms before we make a proposal,” Kasyannikov said. “We will not bid just for the sake of it. “We will bid if the terms are clear and suitable for us.”



An Mi-38 development prototype was rolled out at Kazan Helicopters’ plant in May. The helicopter is expected to be displayed at the MAKS2003 airshow in Moscow later this month.

Rolling out the Mi-38 into the Moscow sun will be a milestone in what has already been a long road. Beginning life as a scale model at the 1994 Paris Air Show, the Mi-38, which closely resembles Sikorsky Aircraft’s recently certified S-92, is a joint project between EADS and the Russian aerospace industry. The project is managed by Euromil JV, a triumvirate of Mil, Kazan Helicopters and Eurocopter, each holding equal shares. Mil is responsible for general design and flight testing, Kazan for manufacture and Eurocopter for cockpit design, avionics and customized versions.

According to Kazan general director Aleksandr Lavrentiev, some $500 million has already been invested in the Mi-38 by all parties, with another $100 million required to complete assembly of “several” prototypes.

However, rumors have been circulating about Eurocopter seeking to sell its share in the program. None of the parties involved has issued any official statement, although sources within the Russian side of the partnership maintain that since Eurocopter’s involvement thus far has been chiefly political and not technical, the program will continue.

One reason for this continuance comes from Moscow. The Mi-38 is included in the Russian government’s official program of “civil aviation development in 2002 to 2010 and up to 2015.” Development of two versions–the Mi-38 with the PW127 and the Mi-382 with the Klimov TV7-117V–is already under way.

The major named subcontractors are Red October (main drive system) and Stupino (rotors made of composite materials with grease-free masts).

A heavy-twin rotorcraft, the Mi-38 is powered by P&WC PW127T/S turboshafts. The first Mi-38 prototype will be powered by two developmental PW127/5s that Pratt & Whitney Canada delivered last year. The engine is a new model in P&WC’s PW100 series. The turboshaft derivative is developed from the PW127 turboprop by St. Petersburg-based Pratt & Whitney-Rus, a wholly-owned division of United Technologies.

The Klimov TV7-117V, also referred to as the VK3000, comes with FADEC. It develops 2,800 shp for takeoff, or 3,500 for 2.5 minutes in emergency mode. The TV7-117S turboprop variant is already in use on the Ilyushin
Il-114 and has been certified for a 2,500-hour TBO.

The Mi-38’s designed mtow is 34,390 pounds, with a payload of 11,020 pounds or 15,000 pounds on the sling. The main rotor diameter is 69 feet and the cabin measures 28- by 7.5- by 6 feet and seats 30. The helicopter’s max speed will be 149 knots and cruise speed will be 135 knots. Range with 30-minute reserves can vary from 174 to 695 nm, depending on payload and the use of additional fuel tanks.


If more than 10 years (with the near certainty of another 10 years in the offing) seems like a long time to bring a helicopter program to market, it might be useful to consider that the last decade-and-a-half have seen the entire social, political and economic structure of what was once the mighty Soviet Union disappear and its people strive to erect something in its place.

During those years, Russian rotorcrafters have struggled to meet payrolls, keep key personnel teams together and try to meet the defense needs of a nation with little available funds, all the while attempting to develop new vertical-lift products that compete with the latest designs from the West.

Russian rotorcraft in the past have been tough and reliable machines that handle demanding missions. A case in point: while Mil has not enjoyed much in the way of good times in recent years, its Mi-17, a growth edition of the workhorse Mi-8, has shown steady sales progress, especially in some countries in Asia, Africa and South America. The designs are there, as is the desire. What’s needed is the demand and the R&D funding.