Russian government funding for three important helicopter projects has dissolved, according to Yearbook 2014, an annual financial summary released by manufacturing conglomerate Rostec in July. The three rotorcraft programs have been canceled. Rostec controls several Russian aviation entities, including Russian Helicopters. This is the first written evidence of major cuts in R&D funding for Russia’s long-term rotorcraft projects.
Rostec’s 2014 Yearbook reads: “The past year saw a significant drop in the amount of funds from the federal budget provided for R&D projects in the aviation industry, from Rouble 16.5 billion down to 11.7 billion. At the same time, the industry invested more of its own funds into R&D: Rouble 8.5 billion against 6.9 [billion] previously. The federal budget injections ran below earlier announced figures, and this was largely due to the fact that real work had been halted–with respective termination of the budgetary funding–on three projects led by Russian Helicopters: the High Speed Rotorcraft, a new multipurpose helicopter with an mtow of 4.5 [metric] tons, and a new lightweight helicopter with a mtow of 2.5 [metric] tons.”
The High Speed Rotorcraft–local acronym PSV–is the most significant loss. The project was started as an industry initiative in 2008. Kamov offered the Ka-92; Mil came up with the Mi-X1. Both design bureaus displayed scale models at HeliRussia 2009. Design targets included range of 810 nm/1,500 km; and cruise speed up to 243 knots/450 kph.
These initial designs gave way to Russian Helicopters’ more conventionally shaped V-37, also referred to as Rachel (Russian Advanced Commercial Helicopter). It was on display for the first time in model form at Farnborough 2012. With an mtow of 10 to 12 metric tons, the Rachel would cruise at 189 to 200 knots/350 to 370 kph, carrying between 20 and 24 passengers. Researchers estimated 726 such helicopters could be sold for commercial use between 2020 and 2035.
Early last year the Russian government promised the industry a financial package of Rouble 7.5 billion for PSV development, of which 1.5 billion would come in 2014 and 2.7 billion in 2015. This news prompted Mil to start converting an Mi-35 into a flying laboratory to test PSV designs, including an innovative highly curved main rotor blade. The design house hoped to win a government contract worth Rouble 3.3 billion for Rachel, which would enable it to complete its draft design in late 2015.
However, a research model of the PSV project showed that the operating costs of a rotorcraft able to cruise at 243 knots/450 kph would be too high for commercial operators. In June this year, Andrei Shibitov, deputy general director with Russian Helicopters, acknowledged, “The speed increase does not bring much benefit to commercial operators.” According to Shibitov, the Russian government is rethinking its earlier plans.
The most likely outcome would see the Kremlin resume funding for PSV, but the focus would shift from the high-speed rotorcraft to development of a 10-metric-ton medium helicopter for commercial operators with a top speed of 189 knots/350 kph. However, the Kremlin is also expected to provide funds for development of a high-speed military rotorcraft with a top speed of more than 243 knots/450 kph. The designs would share a powerplant based on a further improved VK2500 “with some unique technological insertions.” Engine prototypes are being built and their “individual elements” are already undergoing bench testing.
In separate news, the Yearbook also notes that funds from the federal budget were provided in full, as promised, for all earlier planned R&D work on the Mi-38, Mi-171A2, Mi-17V5 (mod), Ansat (mod), Mi-28NM, Ka-52 (mod), Mi-26T2 and Ka-226T. There is no mention of the Ka-62, which could indicate that development of this 6.5-metric-ton rotorcraft has also slowed. Comments from one of the Ka-62 vendors indicate that first flight is now delayed until 2017.
The Yearbook also reveals that the government did provide funds for development of “certain elements in a next-generation turboshaft engine,” including specimens of fuel for the gas-generator (engine core), a digital information storage unit and back-up digital control units for the engine core.
Also according to the Yearbook, Russian Helicopters’ Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant (UUAZ) delivered 40 Mi-8AMTSh-Vs to the Russian defense ministry last year. The Mi-8AMTSh-V is a new variant of the long-serving Mi-8 series with more powerful Klimov VK2500-03 turboshafts in lieu of the TV3-117s previously supplied by Ukrainian manufacturer Motor-Sich. Spawned by the political challenges related to Ukraine, this version comes with a Russian-made TA14 APU in place of the Ukrainian-made AI9V. The Mi-8AMTSh-V features a modern glass cockpit with digital moving map and Glonass/GPS satellite-navigation system. Its TBO has been extended to 2,000 hours from 1,500, and calendar lifetime improves to 35 years from 25, while lifecycle costs are reduced by 25 to 30 percent.
The Yearbook also mentions shipment of 63 Mi-17s to the U.S. Pentagon, which acquired them for the Afghan army. Russian Helicopters’ contribution to Rostec’s income is listed as 17.1 percent (Rouble 165.3 billion) last year, representing profit after tax of Rouble 20.5 billion.