Russian Air and Space Force Receives First Mi-38T

 - December 6, 2019, 5:12 AM
The Mi-38T for the military has strakes on either side of the rear ramp to smooth the airflow for para-dropping operations. (photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

The Russian defense ministry has accepted its first Mi-38 helicopter, according to Russian Helicopters general director Andrei Boginsky. He clarified that the first Mi-38T in a customized military version hovered for the first time on November 3, 2018, and performed a level flight 20 days later, but that was a demonstrator that remains with the manufacturer. That example was displayed at the Army 2019 international military technical forum.

Then, the Kazan Helicopter Plant, local acronym KVZ, assembled two more intended for shipment to the Russian Air and Space Force (local acronym VKS) under an initial order placed at HeliRussia 2017. One of them has just been handed over to the customer, while the second is being prepared for shipment by year-end. According to an earlier statement by the manufacturer, the machines are intended for “joint special flight trials to evaluate systems and onboard equipment for compliance with Russian defense ministry specifications.”

The military variant has a cabin arrangement that accommodates 20 armed soldiers instead of 30 passengers. It differs from the commercial variant by having military-grade avionics and additional aerodynamic surfaces on the rear fuselage to improve airflow in the vicinity of the ramp door. They are believed to be a distinct feature of the military version, despite the fact that one of the civil demonstrators that appeared at MAKS 2019 also had them fitted.

The future of the Mi-38 with the military remains uncertain. It is expected that the VKS may buy a relatively small quantity, primarily for VVIP transportation and search-and-rescue, but also for carrying cargo and personnel. The service may also commit to development of another version with the same propulsion system but carrying special equipment and air-launched weapons. Earlier, the top brass indicated that the VKS has been looking for a multirole rotorcraft platform as the basis for a number of specialized versions for series production that would be considerably superior in performance to the similarly sized Mi-8/17 series that currently forms the backbone of the VKS Army Aviation.

The baseline Mi-38 can carry 30 passengers, while its VVIP conversion accommodates 11, according to specification. It gained initial type certification in December 2015, according to which the 15.6-tonne (34,400-pound) maximum gross weight helicopter can carry a five-tonne (11,000-pound) cargo load over a distance of up to 1,000 km (540 nm). Two years later, the Mi-38 received a supplemental certification permitting passenger transportation. In an official statement, Russian Helicopters highlighted recent improvements to the baseline design that include refined aerodynamic shaping of the fuselage and engine cowling, as well as reshaped shields on the main rotor mast and swashplate.

“The Mi-38 is the next step forward for the local industry,” Boginsky commented. “The combination of flight performance, fuel consumption, and payload-range capabilities makes this type very interesting for commercial operators as well as governmental structures.” In a discussion with the media, he also spoke of a plan to increase the underslung cargo capacity to seven tonnes (15,430 pounds) to make the type more appealing to certain customers, including the military. There is also a plan for an Arctic version.