New Delhi: The helicopter that crashed at Coonoor in Tamil Nadu Wednesday, leading to the deaths of Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika and 11 others, was a Russian-made Mi-17V5.
According to the Indian Air Force (IAF), among those on board the chopper, only Group Capt. Varun Singh has survived, and is currently undergoing treatment at the Military Hospital in Wellington.
The Mi-17V5 is produced and manufactured in Kazan, a city in southwest Russia. It is a modern military transport helicopter used by the Indian Air Force.
These helicopters are part of a larger family of high-performance and multipurpose Mi-17s that can fly at high altitudes in complex weather conditions, be it in tropical and maritime climates or even in desert conditions.
The first export examples of Mi-17s were delivered to Cuba in 1983, and are now in service in Angola, Hungary, India, North Korea, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Peru and Poland, according to an online helicopter directory called Aviastar.org.
In February 2019, a Mi-17V5 helicopter crashed in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir, killing seven people, including six IAF personnel. An IAF probe, however, later ruled that the crash was the result of ‘friendly fire’, and that it was hit by the Air Force’s own Spyder air defence missile.
Mi-17s are manufactured at Kazan Helicopters, a subsidiary of state-owned helicopter design and manufacturing company called Russian Helicopters.
ThePrint explains the main features of the Mi-17s and how they became among the most popular helicopters in their class.
What are the main features of Mi-17s?
According to the Russian Helicopters website, the Mi-17V5s, domestically known in Russia as the Mi-8MTV-5, are designed for personnel transportation, and for carrying cargo internally or on an external sling. They are medium twin-turbine choppers useful in search and rescue operations, and can be equipped with weapons.
The larger family of Mi-17s are an upgrade from the Soviet-era Mi-8s. They are medium multipurpose two-engine turbo-shaft helicopters.
The latter feature simply means that these vehicles have a small rotor mounted on their tails to help balance the torque reaction of the main lifting rotor and inhibit spinning. Mi-17s can travel at a maximum speed of 250 km/h, have up to eight fire posts for small weapons and can transport cargo up to 4,000 kg.
The Mi-171Sh, another member of the Mi-17 family, is produced at Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant in Buryatia, Russia. It was first introduced into the global market in 2002 and suitable for a range of missions, from airlifting of assault forces, troop fire support, cargo transportation, combat search and rescue (CSAR) operations and more.
M-17s can carry up to 24 passengers, or 36 troops in full combat gear. This group is part of the even larger series of Mi choppers that have nearly 50 variations from Mi-1s to Mi-172s.
Soviet history behind these choppers
The Mi-17s are derived from the Mi-8 design, which dates back to the Soviet era. It is why the grouping is sometimes called the Mi-8/17 series.
This series is at times also referred to with the prefix “Mil” after Mikhail Mil, a renowned Soviet helicopter designer and founder of Mil Helicopters, which is now a subsidiary of Russian Helicopters.
The Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, launched in 1947, is responsible for designing and creating the Mi-8/17 series. As of today, the plant has designed 13 basic models with the most popular being the Mi-2, Mi-4, Mi-6, Mi-8/17 and Mi-24, which have all been released in multiple versions.
Kazan Helicopters, which dates back to 1940, is responsible for producing the latest modifications for the Mi-8/17 series.
The Mi-8 was first developed in the early 1950s as a successor to the Mi-4, was first flown in 1961 and production for the series began in 1965 when Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was in power. The Mi-17 was introduced into service by the Soviet Union in 1981.
According to the Czech Republic’s defence ministry, the Mi-17, unlike the Mi-8, has a three-bladed anti-torque rotor and intake openings are equipped with deflectors to separate sand or dust particles from air.
After 45 years in service, India retired 107 Mi-8 choppers in December 2017 to make way for new inductions such as the Mi-17, Mi-1v and the Mi-17V5.
In India’s history, Mi-8s were part of Operation Meghdoot of 1989 in Siachen and have been involved in major rescue operations such as during the 2015 Chennai floods.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)