Russian Helicopters is showcasing the Ansat, which it classifies as a light utility helicopter, this week at the Paris Air Show. With a gross weight of 3,600 kg [7,937 pounds], useful load of 1,079 kg [2,380 pounds], and seating capacity up to 10 (one or two crewmembers and seven to eight passengers), this machine looks more like a medium helicopter, and yet it is the smallest type currently in the manufacturer’s portfolio. Russia’s national inventory accounts for 100 such helicopters, including 24 on the civilian register and the rest with the defense ministry.
The military operates the Ansat-U with a wheeled landing gear and four-channel fly-by-wire flight (FBW) controls, while the more recent Ansat GMSU comes with hydraulically-boosted mechanical linkages. The latter appeared on the type due to the fact that national civil authorities were reluctant to certify an FBW helicopter because requirements for such technology is yet to be specified. FBW control system failure was suspected to be the cause of the crash of an early-production Ansat in the Republic of Korea (RoK) in July 2006 while on a low-level patrol over hilly terrain.
Russian Helicopters CEO Andrei Boginsky hopes that one day—optimistically, in two or three years’ time—the authorities will establish the long-awaited requirements and thus open doors for the civilian rotorcraft operators to FBW technology and the benefits it brings. Teething problems with the four-channel system have been solved. Today, the defense ministry is happy with the Ansat-U's performance. Numerous technical improvements introduced in the past three years have made the Ansat reliable in operation, with a fleet average utilization now exceeding 600 hours a year per airframe.
Boginsky also hopes that the final assembly line at the Kazan Helicopters plant will soon be working at full capacity, turning out some 60 units per year. Following induction in 2009, the Ansat-U’s production peaked at 10 annually. After the civilian type certification for the GMSU version in 2013, the type’s output rose.
There are more than 400 outdated Mi-2 helicopters still on the Russian registry. Since the Ansat provides a direct replacement for that long-serving but obsolete model, the newer type enjoys a considerable anchor market.
The Kremlin helped the Ansat’s market entry by approving of “program for development of medical aviation” in 2016. It allocates about Rouble 10 billion ($153.7 million/€138 million) for aviation assets suitable to that mission. The Ansat provides some expediency—at maximum cruise speed of 260 km/h [140 kt], it can transport two attending physicians and one bedridden patient needing intensive therapy over a radius of 200 km [108 nm].
Last year, the manufacturer signed an agreement with the National Service of Medical Aviation (NSMA) to supply 104 Ansat and 46 Mi-8/17 series helicopters equipped with medical modules. Under that deal, Russian Helicopters has to deliver 45 Ansats to NSMA in 2019, in addition to 20 such rotorcraft to other local and foreign customers.
Earlier, the manufacturer entered an agreement with the State Transport Leasing Corp., with the latter acting as an agent to place Ansat helicopters with commercial operators. Under the deal, the manufacturer supplied six Ansats and 23 Mi-8/17s in 2017, as well as 12 and 19 more, respectively, in 2018.
This year, the company won a direct order from Polar Airlines for seven Ansats due for delivery in 2021. Meanwhile, type operator Russian Helicopter Systems signed a memo with South Korea-based Sharp Aviation for four Mi-8MTVs and four Ansat helicopters for passenger service and firefighting duties. If consummated, this deal should restore confidence in the Ansat among South Koreans after their bitter experience with early-production examples.
Russian Helicopters (Chalet 363, Static Display B8) sees considerable solvent demand for the Ansat in the Chinese market, estimated at some 70 units. Two years ago, it won a small contract from Wuhan Rand Aviation Technology Service. A year later, it was followed by a larger order from China Association of Emergency Medicine, for 20 rotorcraft.
These orders were placed with the understanding that Chinese and Russian civil aviation authorities will soon enter “basic aviation safety agreement” (BASA), following several years of negotiations. The Kremlin has already signaled its readiness to accept a draft, which, among other things, contains a mechanism for validation of national certificates. When in place, this mechanism will open the way for Chinese certification of the Ansat ahead of its placement with commercial operators in the country.
First flown in prototype form in 1999, the Ansat has gone through several improvement programs focused on extending its lifetime and maintenance intervals, weight reduction, and flight-performance improvements. “This platform is such that can be improved endlessly,” Boginsky said. “We have replaced the old [windshields] for [those that can withstand] bird strikes, and introduced a crash-resistant fuel system.”
Special attention has been paid to perfecting the load-bearing structure, a process managed by a special commission on weight. Whenever possible, metallic elements in skin, nacelles, and hatches were replaced with those made of composite materials. “We have already reduced the empty weight by 100 kilos,” down to 2,500 kg (5,511 pounds), Boginsky said.
Existing operators can choose upgrades for their in-service machines from the Helicopter Services Company. Additional thermal insulation applied to nosecone, beneath the windshield and around windows in the forward doors, enables operations as low as -45 degrees C. On the other end of the thermometer, new louvers in the engine cowling and reworked heat exchange panels on the hydraulic reservoir increase the allowable ambient temperature to +50 degrees C.
Vibration and noise are reduced through a new pendulum assembly on the main rotor mast, as well as an active vibration control system (AVCS). It employs bolt-on sensors on the fuselage to feed information to a central processing unit driving actuators. A new fairing on the top of the rotor mast further reduces drag.
Avionics specialists Ramenskoye PKB has developed a new glass cockpit enabling IFR operations. It comes with a digital map including a database for obstacles. Thus fitted, the Ansat can be flown by a single pilot in adverse weather conditions, day or night. “The next step will be new rotor blades. We have already tested them at the Central Aerohydrodynamics Institute (TsAGI),” Baginsky said.
Current-production helicopters feature two 630-shp PW207K engines supplied under a 10-year agreement with Pratt & Whitney Canada. In future, they could be replaced by more powerful and fuel-efficient Klimov VK800V or Technodinamika TD-700 turboshafts now in development. Apart from a performance boost, these can decrease the share of Western components to a level permitting export to those countries that prefer completely Russian equipment.
According to a recent market forecast for civilian equipment, Russian Helicopters expects the annual market for turbine helicopters in the global marketplace to reach 860 by 2028. Of those, 22 percent will be twin-engine rotorcraft with a maximum gross weight between two and four tonnes—the Ansat's category.
The manufacturer wants to capture a good portion of that market. Its long-term strategy calls for a steady increase in civil products. Back in 2016, only 17 out of 189 helicopter deliveries were to commercial operators. The next year, the figure grew to 65, and up to 70 in 2018.
Russian Helicopters expects the global market for civil turbine-powered rotorcraft to grow at an average of 3 percent to 5 percent annually. “We did not pay enough attention to it before. Now, when military sales decline, we are determined to win more civilian orders with the Ansat, the larger Ka-62 undergoing flight tests, and the smaller VRT500 now in development,” Boginsky said.