Auto maker to build engines for aircraft

 - June 12, 2007, 7:27 AM

Russia’s largest automotive manufacturer, AutoVAZ, known in Western Europe for its Lada and Niva cars, is working on a new series of rotary-piston engines for aviation applications. Here at Le Bourget, the Russia’s Rosoboronexport defense export agency, which took control of the AutoVAZ two years ago, promotes the company’s products. Its main priority is the 270-hp VAZ-4265 engine that powers Kazan Helicopter’s three-seat Aktai 3.

In September 2004, AutoVAZ ceased car production after delivering 3,000 vehicles, including many for use by the KGB. But it has continued research and development on aviation derivatives of its latest car engine design, the 140-hp VAZ-415.

 AutoVAZ president Vladimir Artyakov said interest from helicopter makers has boosted the company’s commitment to building piston engines. Prospective powerplant applications for light rotorcraft channel through Oboronprom, a division of Rosoboronexport that holds large stakes in Kazan Helicopters, Rostvertol and the Ulan-Ude Aviation factory, as well as both the Mil and Kamov design bureaus.

On display at the Engines-2002 expo in Moscow, the family of aviation rotary-piston engines comprises single-chamber VAZ-1187 (41 hp), twin-chamber VAZ-416 (170 hp), three-chamber VAZ-426 (270 hp) and four-chamber VAZ-526 (400 hp). Compared to the Russian Vedeneyev M-14 piston engine that is the standard powerplant for Yakovlev and Sukhoi sport and utility airplanes, an equivalent power-rated VAZ is more than 200 pounds lighter and 25 percent more fuel efficient.

The company has built a small number of experimental motors–the VAZ-1187, VAZ-I-1R and VAZ-416–that have flown, respectively, on various ultralights, the Interavia SL-90, the Leshyi twin-seater airplane and AeroVolga L-6M twin-engine flying boat.

The first example of the Aktai helicopter was on display at Moscow’s MAKS’2003 show and flew at MAKS’2005. Kazan Helicopters hopes to win orders for “hundreds” of Aktai helicopters in competition with the U.S.-built Robinson R-22 and other Western rotorcraft designs in the one-ton weight class. Before entering international market, however, the Russian engine maker would need to resolve international property rights issues regarding use of Dr. Felix Wankel’s patented design.