Two months after announcing that it had received major financing from Russia's state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB) for the project, Russian Helicopters unveiled a mock-up of the long-awaited VRT500 new light civil utility single in late July. Developed by Russian Helicopters' subsidiary VR-Technologies, the coaxial design features two three-blade main rotors with shaped carbon-fiber blades to cut noise emissions, extensive composite construction, glass-panel avionics and sliding rear cabin doors. Plans call for its turboshaft engine to be Western-sourced, possibly from Safran.
The five-seat helicopter is intended to compete with the Bell 505 and the Robinson R66. Russian Helicopters plans to market it in the U.S. and Europe and pursue EASA and FAA certification, with serial production projected for 2020 or 2021. The Russian manufacturer indicated it will develop the VRT500 with unidentified European partners.
Preliminary specifications call for the VRT500 to have a maximum takeoff weight of 3,527 pounds, a payload of 1,600 pounds, a cruise speed of 124 knots, a service ceiling of 20,000 feet and a maximum range of 410 nm.
Russian helicopter companies have successfully fielded medium and heavy helicopters for decades, primarily for domestic military and export consumption, most notably the ubiquitous Mi-8/17 series medium twins. But past efforts to develop an indigenous light single have fallen flat for lack of expertise and resources and differing national priorities. Russian Helicopters CEO Andrey Boginsky acknowledged the company's dive into unfamiliar territory earlier this year, noting that the goal is to create a product that is simultaneously appealing to commercial operators and private pilots and can pass muster with Western regulators. He also said that the new helicopter must appeal to markets beyond Russian Helicopters' traditional client base.
Arguably, the last successful light helicopter developed by Russia was the Mil Mi-1; 2,600 of the three-seat, 3,700-pound singles were produced between 1950 and 1965, mainly for military consumption. During the early 1990s, an attempt to develop an indigenous single by Russia's Kazan Helicopters, based on the Airbus AS350, failed.