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We flew up the hill: new helicopters will be tested in the Elbrus region

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The Defense Ministry has approved a program for testing promising military helicopters Mi-28NM and Mi-26T2V at high altitudes in the Elbrus region, sources in the defense department told Izvestia. They will be held until the end of the year. Flights in the highlands are a necessary stage for the completion of tests and the start of serial production of machines for the Aerospace Forces (VKS). According to experts, this is a difficult challenge for helicopters, but it should improve their export prospects.

Mountain range

In December, the vehicles will be tested in the Caucasus Mountains, sources in the military-industrial complex confirmed to Izvestia. For this, the prototype Mi-28 OP-1 and Mi-28NM with tail number 71, as well as Mi-26T2V No. 157 will be temporarily relocated to Nalchik. JSC “National Center for Helicopter Engineering named after M.L. Mil and N.I. Kamova “has already signed contracts (available at Izvestia’s disposal) for their airport services in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, worth about 7 million rubles.

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In previous years, some samples of Russian Helicopters holding equipment, including Ansat and Mi-171A2, were already tested there. General Director of the company Andrey Boginsky explained that the test results will be important in negotiations with potential foreign customers.

In the summer of 2010, during a test flight at the summit of Elbrus at an elevation of 4820 m, one of the new army Mi-8AMTSh crashed. This height is close to the maximum for helicopters. A year later, a unique operation was carried out to evacuate the wreckage, during which the Mi-26 set seven world records for carrying capacity in the mountains.

The first Mi-28NM has already been tested in mountainous areas, including Syria. But the conditions of the winter Elbrus are seriously different due to the higher altitude of the peaks and the cold climate.

In November, the United Engine Corporation announced the completion of bench tests of the VK-2500P engine, which will be installed on the Mi-28NM. According to the developer, the vehicle has an improved control system.

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This summer, Andrei Boginsky spoke about plans to complete tests of the Mi-26T2V, modernized for the requirements of the Russian military, in the first half of 2021, and subsequently to develop a special version for Arctic conditions.

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– The equipment must be tested in different natural conditions, temperature and flight conditions. After she is successfully tested, she will receive the letter O or O1. With it, cars can be sold abroad, – military expert Andrei Frolov explained to Izvestia.

In his opinion, both helicopters have a high export potential and enjoy the attention of potential buyers.

– Algeria and Jordan purchased the Mi-26T2, – said the specialist. – Countries that traditionally acquire Russian equipment, and, possibly, those who have early versions of the Mi-28E, are interested in buying the Mi-28NM. To unify the fleet and increase its capabilities, they can take the Mi-28NM. This helicopter is constantly being upgraded. The current modification is very different from the base one, but has a high degree of continuity.

Afghan experience

In the mountains, the crews of helicopters are expecting serious tests, the former commander of the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army Lieutenant General Valery Gorbenko told Izvestia.

– Even for airplanes there are difficult conditions. I flew in Afghanistan in the mountains, and it was difficult, but helicopters there are generally not easy, – the expert noted. – Difference in heights, crevasses, air flows from different sides. A gust of wind can throw you on the rocks, and it is very difficult to react. Because of this, many disasters have occurred. Another feature of mountainous terrain is thin air at high altitudes, which is fraught with a drop in lift.

According to the specialist, Russian pilots and engineers have gained extensive experience flying in the mountains of Afghanistan.

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– Then it turned out that the Mi-8 and Mi-24 engines in mountainous conditions did not pull, and they had to be changed to more powerful ones, recalls Valery Gorbenko. – In addition, the sides of the Mi-8 were pierced by bullets, so they were surrounded by bulletproof vests from the inside. According to the experience of using helicopters, there were great modifications to the machines.

The Afghan experience spurred the creation of modernized military and civilian versions of the Mi-8. In the Mi-8MT version, it was equipped with much more powerful and sophisticated power plants TV3-117, and the Mi-8MTV also received high-altitude TV3-117VM. With them, Mil’s transport vehicles were able to operate as efficiently in the mountains as on the plain. Subsequently, this characteristic has become an important competitive advantage and has secured hundreds of orders from China and India.

Because of the truly unique mountain characteristics, Mil helicopters were acquired even by the United States. Since 2011, they have purchased 63 Mi-17s (export version of the Mi-8) for transfer to the army and law enforcement agencies of Afghanistan. After the imposition of sanctions against Russian arms manufacturers, the Pentagon began to re-equip its ally with its own, more expensive UH-60 Black Hawk. But US Department of Defense Inspector General Glenn Fine noted in his 2018 report that two such helicopters are required to transport cargo in mountainous conditions instead of one Russian. And in some remote corners of the country, the Black Hawks were not at all capable of delivering soldiers and supplies.

The Mi-28NM is the modern successor to the Mi-24, which has proven itself in Afghanistan. It is already equipped with powerful VK-2500P engines, which should give it the best performance for operations in the highlands. By the end of the year, the Aerospace Forces plan to receive the first two helicopters from a batch of 98 vehicles ordered by the defense department.

The new and not yet fully tested transport giant Mi-26T2 in 2012 lost the tender held by the Indian Air Force, losing to the American competitor CH-47F Chinook. Subsequently, military and civilian versions of it were sold to Algeria, Venezuela and Jordan. Taking into account the requirements of the Russian Aerospace Forces, a variant of the Mi-26T2V was developed. The management of Russian Helicopters announced plans to sign a contract with the Aerospace Forces for the first 10 aircraft after the completion of state tests.

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