MAKS 2005 Helicopters

The static display line at the 2005 International Aerospace and Kosmos Salon held at Zhukovsky Field outside Moscow was filled with interesting helicopters, including this Ka-60 Kasatka ("orca").   Although it looks like a civilian design, the weapons stacked beside it betray its military origins as a troop transport intended to augment or replace the venerable Mi-8 "Hip".   The military provisioning is more than skin deep, with survivability features such as redundant and physically separated control systems, as well as rotor blades and transmission elements able to withstand damage from 12.7mm  (0.5 inch) ammunition.   The tail rotor is housed within an enclosed fenestron, which makes the helicopter appear superficially like the French "Dauphin".   Use of a conventional tail rotor is a very unconventional decision by Kamov, which specializes in designs using twin contra-rotating rotors whose torques cancel each other out and eliminate the need for a tail rotor.   A civilian version called the Ka-62 is also in development.

This two-seat Ka-52 "alligator" gunship is a more typical Kamov design.   Parked next to the single-seat Ka-50 black shark, it shares the same super-maneuverability and heavy firepower as its predecessor, while adding a roof-mounted gyro-stabilized weapons sighting system and a mast-mounted radar.   The second crewman is primarily responsible for the weapons systems, removing a great deal of workload from the pilot.   Kamov had previously worked in conjunction with Israeli Aircraft Industries to offer a tandem-seat version of the Ka-50 called the Erdogan to the Turkish army, but they failed to win a contract.   Kamov obviously saw the value of doing more extensive development of a two-seat version, but it's slightly strange that they chose a side-by-side arrangement, since that makes the helicopter a larger target from the front and also restricts the pilot's visibility to one side.

This Mi-24 "Hind" helicopter gunship manufactured by the Mil design bureau is the most famous Russian helicopter, thanks to its appearance on TV screens around the world during the war in Afghanistan.   Unlike the gunships of other countries, the Hind can carry up to 8 troops in the cabin located on either side of its stub wings, however this extra load makes it less maneuverable and detracts from its primary role, which is why dedicated gunships like the Ka-50, Ka-52 and Mil's own Mi-28 "Havoc" have been developed.   The Hind entered service in 1976, a year after a slightly stripped down version set eight new world helicopter speed-to-climb and absolute speed records.   These early versions had significantly different cockpits, as you can see from this communist Vietnamese Air Force example.

Mil has successfully designed many large helicopters like the Hind, including the massive V-12 "Homer" which never entered production, and this Mi-26 "Halo", currently by far the largest operational helicopter in the world.   It can lift up to 20 tonnes (44,000 lbs), about the same as the C-130 Hercules, which is over 3 meters shorter than the Halo.   This load can be either cargo or passengers - one was shot down in Chechnya while carrying about 150 people.   The US military occasionally hires Mi-26s to perform heavy lift operations which are beyond the capabilities of its own much smaller helicopters, such as the MH-53 Sea Dragon which can only lift 7 tonnes.

Several foreign helicopters were at the show, including this German Eurocopter EC-145, which didn't do a display but flew in and out a few times, probably with company executives or potential customers.   This helicopter in its guise as the UH-145 has been selected by the US army as a replacement for the UH-1 and OH-58.

Disappointingly, several of the most interesting Russian designs didn't fly during the main show days, which meant that there was no opportunity to see the Hind or Halo in action.

As a consolation prize, this Mi-8 "Hip" did appear, but only in its role as a drop ship for a Russian military parachute team.

After the drop the Hip then landed at show center, ostensibly to pick up the parachute team, who could no doubt have been driven more cheaply and efficiently to their destination!

However this was a great opportunity to show off to the large and appreciative crowd, composed mostly of ordinary Russians and a sprinkling of western aviation journalists and enthusiasts.   This photo was taken from the air traffic control tower, providing better lighting and an opportunity to see the large clamshell doors at the rear of the Mi-8, which are used to load and unload cargo.

Mi-8 'Hip'   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Mi-8 is indisputably one of the world's great helicopters, produced in very large numbers, used in about 50 countries, and spawning a range of later designs including the Mi-17 and the Mi-14 "Haze" amphibian.   Components of the Mi-8 including the engines, transmission and rotor system were even used in the development of the Mi-24 "Hind".

The Mi-8 itself was a huge leap forward from previous Russian helicopters, first flying in 1961 as a single turbine-engined development of the piston-engined Mi-4 "Hound", with which it shared the same boom, transmission and rotor blades.

The Hip was a much more capable aircraft than the Hound, able to seat up to 32 passengers or carry 3000 kilograms (6600 lbs) of cargo, either internally or externally.   It also proved to be at least as versatile as the American UH-1 Iroquois or "Huey", serving as a troop transport, air ambulance, and gunship, as well as operating in the search and rescue role.

The Kazan corporation is far less well known than either Mil or Kamov, however it demonstrated several helicopters at the show including this civilian model in its range of "Ansat" helicopters.   For many years Kazan was a builder of Mil designed aircraft, but they decided to go their own way after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of cash flow in the Russian aviation industry.   For Kazan this new direction meant building their own designs in the hopes of rapidly capturing enough market share to sustain their ongoing operations, perhaps by producing a replacement for the many Mil Mi-2s which are rapidly ageing.   The word "Ansat" (the Latinized version of the Cyrillic "AHCAT" legend on its side) comes from the Tartar language and means "light", "simple" or "plain", a reference to the helicopter's simplicity of maintenance and operation.

Kazan is also trying to break into the military market by producing affordable equipment like this Ansat-2RC, derived from the civilian version (this aircraft in fact has the same "902" serial number as the first prototype civilian Ansat).   The Ansat-2RC is an armed reconnaisance helicopter equipped with a 12.7mm (0.5 inch) machine gun above the front skid support, as well as four hardpoints spread across two stub wings.   The company has already displayed the helicopter carrying a mixture of rocket launcher tubes, bombs and anti-aircraft missiles.

Kazan Ansat 2RC  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Ansat-2RC first flew just two weeks before this show, and it's hoped to sell it to less developed countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.   It's also potentially a contender for Russia's own air force, which has already placed an order for the Ansat-U lightweight training helicopter, though whether funding ever materializes for this is questionable.

In the absence of flying displays by Mil helicopters, the performances of various models of Kamov helicopters stole the show.

Although MAKS 2005 was a disappointment in terms of what might have been on offer, it was probably the best display of rotary aircraft held at any air display in the world during 2005.   There was certainly a greater variety of helicopters than in comparable displays such as the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) display held each year at the Miramar airshow in California.

   The Kamov bureau was allocated an extended display slot during which it displayed most of the helicopter types which it had brought to the show, both military and civilian.   It was impressive to see them make their entrance together, with aircraft like this Ka-31 "Helix" in very loose formation with a Ka-226 and several other types.

Kamov has a large share of the international naval helicopter market, partly because the compactness of their contra-rotating designs makes shipboard storage and operation somewhat easier.   The Ka-31 which flew during the show is equipped with a six square meter rotating radar panel beneath the fuselage which allows the helicopter to act as a radar picket, able to warn the fleet of incoming aircraft while monitoring up to 40 targets simultaneously.   The wheels retract to avoid interfering with the radar, and the panel folds flat when landing and can be jettisoned in an emergency by detonating its explosive bolts.   The Ka-31 is used by both the Russian and Indian navies, and even more countries utilized its predecessors the Ka-29 "Helix-B", Ka-27 "Helix-A" (called the Ka-28 in its export version) and Ka-25 "Hormone".

Ka-31 'Helix'  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Ka-226 first flew in 1997, it's a two-engined development of the single-engined Ka-126, which was itself a development of the Ka-26 which had two very distinctive looking podded radial engines along with cloth covered control surfaces!   Since they shared a common lineage, all three of these helicopters have the NATO reporting name of "Hoodlum", however Kamov's own name for the Ka-226 is Sergei.

Although NATO names are primarily used in a military context, Kamov has been a longtime supplier of the agricultural helicopter market, a role for which all of the "Hoodlums" are well suited due to the flexible modular design which allows various fittings to be added behind the cockpit, in this case a load sling, but also pesticide or fertilizer applicators, a medevac unit or even a passenger cabin.

In a further move to diversify from its Russian military background and make its equipment more attractive to foreign buyers, Kamov is offering Rolls-Royce and Turbomeca engines to power the Sergei, and it can also be fitted with non-Russian avionics.

Here's a Ka-226 with a passenger cabin mounted behind the cockpit.   As with the Ka-31, the Sergei's contra-rotating blades reduce the risk of injury to people on the ground, and also lessen the chances of hitting obstacles when landing in a confined space, making these helicopters well-suited to police and emergency service operations in urban areas.

The Ka-226 with a slung load obviously wasn't in much of a position to do an aerobatic display, but even with the cabin this Ka-226 put on quite a display of agility, a useful ability particularly when doing crop spraying.

The Sergei can operate for four and a half hours on its usual fuel load, or six and three-quarter hours when fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks, and it can continue flying even if it loses one engine.

When this black Kamov gunship appeared in the distance, I assumed that it was the same model of black Ka-52 alligator that was parked in the static display, but disappointingly that wasn't the case, instead it was a Ka-50 black shark.

Instead of a black shark and an alligator, Kamov instead flew two black sharks, the one painted black and this one in camouflage.   The Ka-50 was developed to meet a Russian army requirement for a dedicated helicopter gunship to replace the Mi-24 Hind.   Although Kamov previously had most experience in naval applications, the V-80 prototype black shark was able to beat out the Mi-28 "Havoc" to win the contract, although lack of money has prevented the Ka-50 from entering service, and it's still possible that the Havoc will somehow regain the top hand, especially since there's lingering doubt that the black shark's single crewman will be able to effectively operate the weapons systems at the same time as flying the aircraft.

The Ka-50 is fully aerobatic and although at this show it didn't do the loops and barrel rolls it's capable of, it still put on a very impressive display of speed and maneuverability.   Having no torque to balance with a tail rotor, the black shark is significantly more maneuverable than conventional helicopters, and is able to perform feats like the "Funnel", flying in a circle around a target while raining firepower down on it, at the same time as making itself a more difficult target to hit than a stationary helicopter would be.   As if this isn't enough, not only can the Ka-50 fly forwards at up to 340 km/h (215 mph), it can even fly backwards or sideways at more than 100 km/h.

The black shark is primarily designed as a tank-buster and helicopter killer, able to operate at night with the help of night-vision goggles and a forward-looking infra-red display.   The head-up display (HUD) is said to be identical to the one used in the MiG-29 fighter.

Ka-50 Black Shark  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

This photo, shot at a distance through the humid summertime air, shows the powerful 30mm cannon mounted on the pilot's right-hand side, which can fire incendiary, fragmentation or armor piercing rounds weighing 0.39 kilograms (about one pound).   The stub wings, each with two hardpoints, can be used to carry 12 AT-16 anti-tank guided missiles as well as two pods each holding 20 unguided rockets.   In total, 2500 kilograms of externally mounted weapons can be carried.

It's fitted with a very advanced pilot ejection system, which sends the pilot upwards on a normal ejection seat, after first detaching all of the rotor blades by firing explosive bolts.   It's said that this system will even protect the pilot if the helicopter is inverted, as long as it is at least 90 meters above the ground.   Armor around the pilot can withstand 23mm projectile fragments or armor piercing rounds up to 12.7mm  (0.5 inch), and the engines can continue operating for up to 30 minutes after the oil lubrication system is destroyed.

It's an impressive and threatening aircraft when it passes close by.   The anti-tank missiles are said to be effective up to a distance of 8 kilometers, and can penetrate active armor up to 900mm thick.

Ka-50 Black Shark  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

It's also a veritable Swiss army knife of gadgets and equipment poking out from all over its upper and lower surfaces, including sensors and countermeasure pods at the end of each wing.