Not monster trucks but monster transport helicopters aircraft, and to be fair, it should really be from Ukraine and Russia, but hey, it sounded like a good headline!
Soviet Monsters it is…
Russia has continually developed heavy lift helicopters and this has culminated in the Mil-26. The internal market for heavy lift helicopters was shaped by the need to move vehicles and large amounts of equipment used to develop the wilderness areas and the military have been keen to use them for air assault and air transport operations, and especially for the Strategic Rocket Forces.
Although the pre-war YU-2 project was never developed, the wartime OKB-3 saw the very limited development and a number of other projects never came to fruition, the first heavy lift helicopter to see series production was the Yak-24.
The Yak-24 tandem rotor design made its first flight in July 1952.
The design actually comprised two Mil-4 engines, rotors, transmissions and control systems, joined together by a Yak 14 fuselage. It’s rather ‘industrial’ look, earned it the nickname the ‘flying truck. Like the Bristol Belvedere and H-21 Shawnee, the tandem configuration allowed all the engine power to be devoted to thrust and lift.
By 1952, the Yak-24 (Horse) was in full production at Leningrad’s Plant 272 and in 1955 set a number of payload records that Russian helicopters would continue to break over the following years. The first production models had a V tail fin but this was replaced with a different configuration. Variants included VIP transport, pipe laying, passenger and even a flying film studio. With two АШ-82В 1430 hp engines, the improved Yak-24U could lift a payload of 4 tonnes with a maximum range of 265km.
The VIP transport variant (Yak 24K) is shown below.
A widened version was also developed but by 1959, the much more effective Mil-6 was in production and Yakovlev ceased helicopter development and production.
The Mil-6 (Hook) was produced at two factories; No 23 in Moscow and 168 in Rostov on Don, with over 900 being eventually produced. Variants included passenger, survey, radio relay, tanker, ASW, command post, aerial minesweeper towing, laboratories and most importantly strategic rocket carrier.
The prototype first flew in 1957 and after a short test period entered production in 1960, final production quantity was in excess of nine hundred.
In 1962, it smashed records with a 20-tonne lift at a maximum take-off weight of 48 tonnes. In comparison, the very latest CH-53K, yet to enter service with the USMC, has a maximum payload of 16 tonnes and maximum take-off weight of 38.4 tonnes.
Passenger carrying capacity was 90, or 70 paratroopers. In the medical evacuation, it could carry 41 stretchers and 2, busy, medical personnel. Maximum speed was 300kmh with a range of 620km and a maximum ceiling of 4,500m. The two Soloviev D-25V (TB-2BM) engines each produce 4,100 kW (5,500 SHP). The rotor was a five-bladed design and internal cargo capacity was 11.34 tonnes. Everything about the Mil 6 was built tough, even the engine access doors could be folded out and used as a work platform for maintenance engineers.
The large clamshell doors provided easy access for vehicles and stores and a roof mounted crane could be used for loading and unloading. The Mil-6 Hook delivered approximately double the cargo weight and internal volume of a Chinook and not far off two-thirds of a C-130 Hercules.
Production ended in 1980 and during the period, a number of variants were produced;
- Mi-6PZh fire fighting
- Mi-6PS search and rescue (SAR)
- Mi-6APS improved Search and Rescue
- Mi-6TZ-SV mobile vehicle tanker
- Mi-6M Anti-Submarine Warfare
- Mi-6P passenger
- Mi-6S medevac
- Mi-6VKP command post
- Mi-22 Hook C-Command Post
- Mi-6AYaSH command post with SLAR
It was no doubt a successful design, perfectly aligned with military and civilian requirements, especially the Soviet Cold War air assault doctrine.
The Mil-10 (Harke) took the Mil-6 and converted it into a flying crane configuration.
It was designed to carry outsize cargo without resorting to a flexible sling, instead, an underslung rigid platform or special lifting attachments meant long lifting slings could be dispensed with. Fitting the platform only took a couple of minutes. The Mi-10 entered service in 1963 after the first prototype flew in 1960. It set a record of 25 tonnes to lift in 1965 with a specially modified P variant that had aerodynamic fairings for the undercarriage, although normal payload was 15 tonnes.
The short legged version, Mil-10K, was also used for developing oil fields and has a lift capacity of a couple of tonnes higher than the standard variant. It also had a load observer station beneath the fuselage.
As vehicle and missile systems weight grew, especially the UR-500 and SS-8 ICBM’s, the need for even heavier lift helicopters resulted in a number of alternatives to the single rotor design. The V-12(Mi-12) and V-16(Vi-16) were developed with a side by side rotor arrangement, with the V-16 having a rotor at the front of the fuselage. The V-12 had the same cargo hold dimensions as the AN-22 transport aircraft (approximately 28m x 4m x 4m) and used two Mil 6 engine and transmission systems mounted at the end of each inverse tapered externally supported wing.
The V-12 (Homer) first flew in 1967 and in 1969, a record-breaking 40-tonne lift successfully carried out. As testing progressed, development of the larger also V-16 commenced.
Despite initial success, only two prototypes of the V-12 were build and it failed to enter production, the V-16 was also cancelled.
The Strategic Rocket Forces had by then started to gain greater experience with railway mounted systems, engine development and the death of the designer meant that work was ceased, fewer AN-22’s were also ordered due to a similar change in ballistic missile transport requirements.
Instead, a new single rotor design would be developed, the Mi-26 Halo.
The Mil 26 (Halo) was intended to move 20-tonne payloads in excess of 500km and in simple terms, is a larger Mil 6. Development work started in 1971 with the first flight in 1977. It entered production in 1980 and military service in 1983. Although it is not much heavier than the Mil 6, its payload is 20 tonnes but a 1982 record breaking lift demonstrated a lift of 56 tonnes to an altitude of 2,000m.
Landing gear height can be adjusted for ease of loading and unloading, and the cargo hold is equipped with an overhead gantry crane and two internal winches. It retained the ruggedness of the Mi-6 but is larger and has a higher payload, roughly the same as a C-130 Hercules. With blades turning, it is approximately 40m long, 10m longer than a Chinook. The cargo hold dimensions are 12m long, 3.3m wide and 2.9 to 3.2m high.
A civilian variant commenced production in 1985 and a ‘flying crane’ Mil 26K was developed but never entered service. The Mi-26MS is a medical evacuation variant and the Mi-26TZ, a forward tanker variant with additional internal fuel tanks, pumps and hoses. Others include radio relay, fire-fighting and command post.
Over 300 have been built and the latest version, available from Rostvertol, is the Mi-26T2, this has modernised avionics and glass cockpit, digital autopilot and other enhancements that mean it can be operated with a crew of two instead of five.
This document, from NASA, provides a good comparison between Russian and Western helicopters but it is interesting that Western forces have not developed anything with the same lift weight and volume capacity as the Mil 26, and there is nothing in the pipeline either.
One cannot fail to be impressed with the large Russian heavy lift helicopters.
Joining the Mil Monsters are the Antonov Giants.
The AN-22 (Antei/Cock) first flew in 1965 and went into production in 1967, with a final run of 68 aircraft completed in 1976. The four Kuznetsov NK-12MA turboprop engine each drove a contra-rotating rotor with a total power output of 60,000 SHP, compare this with the A400M, that has a total of 44,000 SHP. This power, from the same engines that power the TU-95 Bear, provided a payload of 72 tonnes to a maximum range at a maximum payload of 5,000km, although a record-breaking flight in 1967 lifted 104 tonnes. It also set a number of speed records.
The 14 wheel undercarriage and large double slatted flaps provided a good short field performance, 1,400m fully loaded. Four gantry cranes and two winches supported cargo handling. Cargo hold dimensions are 33m length, 4.4m wide and 4.4m high.
Approximately 75 were built in a number of variants, and it is still in service.
As impressive as the AN-22 was, it still wasn’t big enough.
In October 1967, Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov proposed Project 122 (AN-122) but this was rejected as it fell short of the 120-140 tonne requirement. By 1971, Antonov had initial designs for a four and six jet turbine powered transport and in 1972, the decision was made to proceed with Project 124.
A full-size mock was in 1973 and by 1982, the prototype ready for its first flight. In 1986, it entered production with 56 being completed. As was the norm, it proceeded to make and break records including lifting 171.2 tonnes to 10,750m and a 25 hour non-stop flight.
A number of variants have been produced.
The Strategic Airlift Interim Service (SALIS) is a commercial arrangement managed by the Strategic Airlift Coordination Cell (SALCC) in the Royal Netherlands Air Force Base at Eindhoven.
The SALIS participating nations are described below;
Even the older AN-124-100 Ruslan is a hugely impressive aircraft; 120 tonnes payload and 4,800km range for starters.
The latest AN-124-150 (Ruslan) can carry a 150-tonne payload in its 36.5m long, 6.4m wide and 4.4m high cargo hold, which can be loaded from the front or rear. In addition to cargo, it can also carry 88 passengers in an upper deck compartment. A number of winches and cranes allow cargo to be loaded and unloaded and the twenty-four wheeled undercarriage can be height adjusted.
The list of improvements in the AN124-100M-150 includes (from the Antonov website)
- payload increased from 120 tonnes to 150 tonnes;
- take-off weight increased from 392 tonnes to 402 tonnes;
- flight range increased, including for cargo of 120 tonnes from 4650 km to 5400 km;
- aircraft assigned service life is increased to 24,000 flight hours; works on its extension up to 50 000 flight hours/10 000 flights/45 years service life are being performed;
- the new PO-500 schedule of maintenance has been introduced (maintenance every 500 flight hours);
- onboard crane equipment providing loading-unloading operations of a single piece of cargo up to 40 tonnes weight;
- fuselage structure had been strengthened to enable airlift of a single piece of cargo up to 150 tons weight;
- Navigation System and radar have been updated;
- digital anti-skid braking system allowing to reduce landing distance up to 30% have been installed;
- crew reduced from 6 to 4 members, and the comfort level of the crew rest cabin has been improved;
- military oxygen equipment has been exchanged for the civil one;
- reinforced wheels and tires have been installed;
- new devices for engine control have been installed;
- modernised systems of reverse control and engine vibration state monitoring have been developed;
- the SRPPZ-2000 ground proximity warning system installed;
- A826 inertial navigation system upgraded;
- Enhanced observation (EHS) has been applied;
- Minimum Equipment List has been developed and is now being implemented
This extends and already impressive aircraft with a range of improvements.
Antonov has also been trying to develop the next generation Ruslan for a while, there have also been concepts to create a version with a taller cargo bay for tall industrial loads and a Chinook helicopter without disassembly, and a fully Westernised version now that Ukraine – Russian relations are unlikely to produce any more cooperation, anytime soon.
To finish, the six engine AN-225,
The AN-225 (Myria) was designed to transport cargo weighing up to 250 tonnes but not into short runways. It can also carry 200-tonne cargo on its external store arrangement, the Russian Buran space vehicle for example.
Only one was made and it is in civilian service as a super heavy airlifter. The cargo hold has a length of 43m, a width of 6.4 m and height of 4.4 m.
Quite simply, an amazing piece of aeronautical engineering.
In June 2016, Ukroboronprom consolidated its holdings into a new company called the Ukrainian Aircraft Corp. The new organisation is very much centred on Antonov with the general objectives of improving efficiency, export sales and of course, untangling itself from any Russian subcontractors.
In August, Antonov also announced a strategic partnership with AICC of China
The 250 tonne payload aircraft, it seems, may have a second life
Russia has an amazing track record in building world-beating heavyweights.
With some longer term thinking, we could even look at a joint NATO/Ukraine investment to replace or augment the SALIS AN-124-100’s with a fully Westernised (the same Rolls Royce Trent 772 engines as found on the A330 for example) and taller AN-124-150 such that NATO would then have on lease, an aircraft that can rapidly deploy Chinook or 150 tonnes at a time at strategically useful distances.
Together with UK C17’s and a large fleet of European A400M’s, Europe would then be able to deploy and sustain a credible force into North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe without needing US support.