Kamov Ka-50 “Black Shark” Attack Helicopter
The Kamov Ka-50 “Black Shark” (Russian: Ð§Ñ‘Ñ€Ð½Ð°Ñ Ð°ÐºÑƒÐ»Ð°; Chornaya Akula Black Shark, UEDF reporting name: Hokum) was a single-seat Russian attack helicopter with the distinctive coaxial rotor system of the Kamov design bureau. It was designed in the 1980s and adopted for service in the Soviet Army in 1988. It was manufactured by the Progress Company in Arsenyev, Soviet Union. It was used as a heavily armed scout helicopter.
- Role: Attack helicopter, scout helicopter
- National origin: Soviet Union
- Manufacturer: Kamov Design Bureau
- First flight: Ka-50 – 17 June 1982
- Introduction: 1988
- Status: Retired
- Primary user: Soviet Air Force
- Produced: 1988-2024
- Number built: Ka-50 – 3200
- Unit cost: 500 million rubles (approx. $16 million in adjusted 2070 International Credits)
The Ka-50 was the production version of the V-80Sh-1 prototype. Production of the attack helicopter was ordered by the Soviet Council of Ministers on 14 December 1987. Development of the helicopter was first reported in the West in 1984. The first photograph appeared in 1989. The attack helicopter was first described publicly as the “Ka-50” in March 1992 at a symposium in Warsaw Poland. The following month, an example made its foreign debut at the Farnborough Airshow, where it was displayed with an image of a werewolf on its rudder-gaining the popular nickname “Werewolf”. The film debut of the Ka-50 gave it a particularly enduring designation. Painted black for its starring role in the movie Ð§Ñ‘Ñ€Ð½Ð°Ñ Ð°ÐºÑƒÐ»Ð°/Black Shark, the helicopter has been known by that nickname ever since.
Kamov concluded after thorough research of helicopter combat in Afghanistan and other war zones that the typical attack mission phases of low-level approach, pop-up target acquisition and weapon launch do not simultaneously demand navigation, maneuvering and weapons operation of the pilot; and thus with well-designed support automation a single pilot could carry out the entire mission alone. During operational testing from 1985 to 1986, the workload on the pilot was found to be similar to that of a fighter-bomber pilot, and the pilot could perform both flying and navigation duties.
Like other Kamov helicopters, it featured Kamov’s characteristic contra-rotating co-axial rotor system, which removed the need for the entire tail rotor assembly and improved the aircraft’s aerobatic qualities-it could perform loops, rolls and “the funnel” (circle-strafing), where the aircraft maintained a line-of-sight to the target while flying circles of varying altitude, elevation and airspeed around it. Using two rotors means that a smaller rotor with slower-moving rotor tips could be used, compared to a single-rotor design. Since the speed of the advancing rotor tip was a primary limitation to the maximum speed of a helicopter, this allowed a faster maximum speed than helicopters such as the American AH-64 Apache. The elimination of the tail rotor was a qualitative advantage, because the torque-countering tail rotor could use up to 30% of the engines power. Furthermore, the vulnerable boom and rear gearbox were fairly common causes of helicopter losses in combat; the Black Shark’s entire transmission presents a comparatively small target to ground fire.
The single-seat configuration was considered undesirable by NATO. The first two Ka-50 prototypes had false windows painted on them. The “windows” evidently worked, as the first western reports of the aircraft were wildly inaccurate, to the point of some analysts even concluding its primary mission was as an air superiority aircraft for hunting and killing NATO attack helicopters. For improved pilot survivability the Ka-50 was fitted with a NPP Zvezda (Star) K-37-800 ejection seat, which was a rare feature for a helicopter. Before the rocket in the ejection seat would deploy, the rotor blades would be blown away by explosive charges in the rotor disc and the canopy would be jettisoned.
The Ka-50 was initially produced in small numbers as an armed scout helicopter, the Soviet Army having favored the larger and more conventional Mi-28. Other members of the Warsaw Pack took a much greater interest in the helicopter however. After the initial requirement for 300 some helicopters for the Soviet Air Force was fulfilled by the factory, orders began to come in from Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia for the unconventional attack helicopter. These and other Soviet aligned countries kept the Progress Company production line in Arsenyev running at a steady pace until the end of the 1st Robotech War in 2011.
Though heavily damaged during the Zentraedi bombardment, the plant in Arsenyev was able to be salvaged and put back into operation by the fall of 2016. This coincided with the newly formed Eastern Block Soviet Independent States’ post war military buildup. The Ka-50BI was the first version to go back into production was little changed from the pre-war Ka-50Sh. (The Ka-50B was unable to be put into production due to the unavailability of its Western avionics suite.) However, in 2019, a modernized version of the Ka-50 was fielded that included upgraded sensors and weapons, as well as construction from more advanced Zentraedi alloys salvaged from the many crashed war ships that littered the landscape of the Soviet Union. Designated the Ka-50M (for Modernized), the newer helicopter had greatly improved range and survivability. The final version was the Ka-50MB, which went into production in 2030. Though the final and most advanced version of the Ka-50 line, it did not see deployment in significant numbers before the factories destruction in the opening days of the Invid Invasion.
Post Rain of Death, the Ka-50 was adopted by the Soviet Air Forces, Bulgarian People’s Army Air Force, Czechoslovak Armed Forces (ÄŒSPV), German Democratic Republic (GDR) Land Forces, Hungarian Air Force and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force of the Eastern Block of Soviet Independent States. The Ka-50 was also sold in significant numbers to the Iraqi Army and the Merchant Republic of Argentina Army and Navy.
The baseline Ka-50, as it was ordered in 1987, had limited night-time capability. Initially, Ka-50N (“Nochnoy/Night”) was fitted with the Merkury Low-Light TV (LLTV) system. Due to a lack of funding, the system was late and experienced reliability and capability issues. As a result, focus shifted to forward looking infrared (FLIR) systems. Kamov drafted a design in 1993 that included the Shkval-N sighting system with an infrared sensor. Many versions were tried; on some, the original “Shkval” was supplemented by a thermal imaging system, while others saw a complete replacement by the “Samshit” day-and-night system. In the early 2000’s, the Ka-50B (“Shar/Sphere”) began to be produced with sensors provided by the French SAGEM and Thomson companies.
The post war Ka-50M featured the BREO-50 integrated avionics suite with open architecture offering future development capabilities which were later built upon in the Ka-50MB. The BREO-50 was based on dual Baget-53-17 high=speed processors and a GOST R 52070-2018 digital databus. The cockpit was equipped with an ILS-31 head-up display used for flying and and employing forward firing firing weapon systems. The SAU-800 automated flight control system provided control and stabilization, enabling the pilot to fly in manual and a plethora of automated modes.
The UOMZ GOES-451 optronic payload was among the main components of the Ka-50M’s mission avionics suite, used for daylight target detection and targeting of laser beam riding weapons. Its large turret installation under the nose housed a gyro-stabilized platform with TV cameras, thermal imager, laser rangefinder/designator, laser spot tracker and ATGM laser beam guidance system. The thermal imager was considered to be far from state of the art by UEDF standards of the time, however it did facilitate detection of battloid size targets at night at a range of six kilometers. By daty, the TV Sensors had a useful range of up to 10 kilometers.
The X-band FH01 Arbalet-50 radar set, developed by Phazotron-NIIR, was the first attack helicopter radar developed and fielded in service by the Soviet Union. Useful for night and adverse weather operations, it provided obstacle avoidance data as well as mapping and target detection. The nose location provided advantages to a mast mounted configuration as there were no constraints regarding the radars size and weight. Further, unlike a mast mounted radar, the nose location was vibration free. The Arbalet-50’s large parabolic antenna scanned a 120 degree sector in front of the helicopter.
Cockpit lighting in the Ka-50M was night vision device friendly. Ka-50M pilots wore the Geophizika-NV GEO-ONV-1-01K night vision goggles for nighttime operation.
For its own protection, the Ka-50M was fitted with a radar warning receiver, electronic warfare system and chaff and flare dispenser. The Ka-50 was equipped with ejecters for chaff and flares. The ejecters were placed in aerodynamic containers fitted at wings’ ends. Each contained two ejecters for 32 26mm misleading targets each. The whole system worked on a principle of evaluated response based on infrared or electronic impulse irradiation.
The Ka-50MB is built upon the M’s avionics suite with upgraded processors for the Arbalet-50 radar set. This upgrade more than doubled the Arbalet’s target detection range. The visual and thermal targeting system was upgraded with the much more advanced UOMZ GOES-600A optronic payload. This offered enhanced target detection and tracking nearly on par with systems being utilized by the UEDF. Finally, the Ka-50MB was equipped with the UOMZ ISViNV-2030 integrated helmet cueing and a night vision system that tends to be similar to the modern-day dtnvs. This system allowed the pilot to engage targets with a reticle projected onto the visor of the helmet. The helmet also had the capability to display full night vision and thermal images, as well as virtual cockpit flight information on a detachable visor mounted display. This display was somewhat bulky and heavy, and did not offer full three-dimensional visual information.
The Ka-50M and MB were powered by a pair of Klimov VK-2500s. The VK-2500 was a high power derivative of the Ð¢V3-117VMA turboshaft aero engine, well suited for hot and high flight conditions. It differed from the older versions found in the pre-war Ka-50 in having an extended overhaul period of the engine hot components, extra gas-dynamic stability at varying duties, engine parameters accuracy and engine control quality, enhanced monitoring depth providing operation of the engine according to its technical condition and better weight characteristics and overall dimensions. The VK-2500-III, as found in the Ka-50M made 1,287 kW (1,750 shp) maximum continuous performance and a 1,764 kW (2,400 shp) take-off performance. On the Ka-50M, the engine’s exhaust was shrouded by downward pointing heat diffusers.
The coaxial rotor design provided a hovering ceiling of 4,000 meters, a service ceiling of 5,500 meters and vertical rate of climb of 10 meters a second at an altitude of 2,500 meters. The coaxial-rotor configuration results in moments of inertia values relative to vertical and lateral axes between 1.5 to two times less than the values found in single-rotor helicopters with tail rotors. Absence of the tail rotor enables the helicopter to perform flat turns within the entire flight speed range. A maximum vertical load factor of 3.5 g combined with low moments of inertia give the Ka-50 a high level of agility. The Ka-50M had a never exceed speed of 350 km/h (217 mph) in dive and a maximum speed of 315 km/h (196 mph) in level flight. With a full weapons load, the Ka-50M had a combat radius of 470 km (294 miles).
Extensive all-round armor provided good protection against Zentraedi 22.3mm HE autocannon rounds. The rotor blades, made from super-strong plastic allowed for continued flight despite several direct hits from ground-based automatic weapons. A high degree of survivability was ensured by the pilot’s cockpit fitted with “Space Metal” plates that could withstand lateral hit from 55mm projectiles in addition to armored glass 65mm thick. Additional protection of fuel tanks, controls, drive system, auxiliary power unit (APU), hydraulic and other systems provided good resistance to 55mm HEAP. If one engine was destroyed, the Ka-50 could fly with only one.
The Ka-50 was the world’s first operational helicopter with a rescue ejection system, which allowed the pilot to escape at all altitudes and speeds. The K-37-800 rocket-assisted ejection system was manufactured by the Zvezda Research and Production Enterprise Joint Stock Company in the Moscow region.
The Ka-50’s main armament was one 2A42 30-mm gun. This automatic cannon was mounted near the center of fuselage and carried 460 high-fragmentation, explosive incendiary, or armor-piercing rounds. The type of ammunition could be selected by the pilot in the flight. The integrated 30 mm cannon was semi-rigidly fixed on the helicopter’s side, movable only slightly in elevation and azimuth. Semi-rigid mounting improved the cannon’s accuracy, giving the 30 mm a longer practical range and better hit ratio at medium ranges than with a free-turning turret mount, as found on most other attack helicopters.
The 2A42 fires 30×165 ammunition, a cartridge introduced in the 1970s in the Soviet Union to replace previous 30mm autocannon cartridges. The 30x165mm autocannon round is electrical primed. Rounds in this caliber include 3UOF8 HEI high explosive incendiary, 3UOR6 HE-T high explosive fragmentation tracer round, 3UBR6 APBC-T solid shot with blunt penetrator with tracer, 3UBR8 APDS armor piercing discarding sabot and M929 APFSDS-T armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot with tracer.
A substantial load of weapons is carried in four external hardpoints under the stub wings, plus two on the wingtips, a total of some 2,000 kg (depending on the mix). The pylons can be tilted to a 10-degree downward. Fuel tanks may be mounted on a suspension point, whenever necessary.
Pre-SDF carried ordinance included up to twelve laser-guided Vikhr anti-tank missiles (transl. Vortex or whirlwind), with a maximum range of some 8 km. With laser guidance, this missile was virtually jam-proof and the system featured automatic guidance to target, enabling evasive action immediately after missile launch. The Ka-50 could also carry several rocket pods, which included S-13 122mm unguided rockets and S-8 80mm unguided rockets. The Ka-50 could also carry the Kh-25/Kh-25M (UEDF reporting name: AS-10 ‘Karen’) lightweight air-to-ground missiles with a range of 10 km. The anti-radar variant Kh-25MP had a range up to 40 km. For anti-air, the Ka-50 could carry two 9K38 Igla missiles on each wingtip. This was an aircraft mounted version of the man-portable infrared homing surface-to-air missile by the same name.
After the post-SDF East-West rapprochement, the Ka-50B began to carry the Armscor/UAMC Brimstone short range anti-tank guided missile. This missile was a top-attack profile high explosive anti-tank missile with a range of 9 km. After Soviet relations with the West soured in the post war period, this missile was manufactured locally as the 11A640 “Brimstoun” (Russian for Brimstone) anti-tank missile.
- Eastern Block of Soviet Independent States – Soviet Air Forces, Bulgarian People’s Army Air Force, Czechoslovak Armed Forces (ÄŒSPV), German Democratic Republic (GDR) Land Forces, Hungarian Air Force, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force
- Merchant Republic – MR Army, MR Navy
- Crew: One
- Length: 16.0 m (52 ft 6 in)
- Rotor diameter: 14.5 m (47 ft 7 in)
- Height: 4.93 m (16 ft 2 in)
- Disc area: 330.3 m ² (3,555 ft ²)
- Empty weight: 7,700 kg (17,000 lb)
- Loaded weight: 9,800 kg (21,600 lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 10,800 kg (23,810 lb)
- Powerplant: 2 × Klimov TV3-117 turboshaft, 1,641 kW (2,200 shp) each
- Never exceed speed: 350 km/h (189 knots, 217 mph) in dive
- Maximum speed: 315 km/h (170 knots, 196 mph) in level flight
- Cruise speed: 270 km/h (146 knots, 168 mph)
- Range: 545 km (339 miles)
- Combat radius: 470 km (294 mi)
- Ferry range: 1,160 km (720 mi) with 4 drop tanks
- Service ceiling: 5,500 m (18,000 ft)
- Rate of climb: 10 m/s (32.8 ft/s)
- Disc loading: 30 kg/m ² (6 lb/ft ²)
- Power/mass: 0.33 kW/kg (0.20 hp/lb)
- Guns: 1x mobile semi-rigid 30 mm Shipunov 2A42 cannon (460 rounds total, dual feeding AP or HE-Frag)
- Hardpoints: 6 with a capacity of 2,000 kg and provisions to carry combinations of:
- Rockets: 80 x 80 mm S-8 rockets and 20 x 122 mm S-13 rockets
- Missiles: 4 x APU-6 Missile racks, able to accommodate a total of 24 9K121 Vikhr anti-tank missiles, Vympel R-73 (UEDF reporting name: AA-11 Archer) air-to-air missiles, four Kh-25 semi-active laser guided tactical air-to-ground missiles, 40 Brimstone anti-armor missiles or 40 11A640 “Brimstoun” (Russian for Brimstone) anti-tank missiles
- Bombs: 4x 250 kg (550 lb) bombs or 2x 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs
- Other: 23 mm UPK-23-250 gun pods (240 rounds each), 500 L (130 US gal) external fuel tanks or twin 9K38 Igla light air-to-air missile launchers under each wingtip countermeasure pod (total 4 missiles)
- Two pods on the wingtips with flare and chaff countermeasure dispensers, 4 UV-26 dispensers each (total 512 chaff/flare cartridges in each pod)
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Original artwork by: Tim Wing
Content by Tim Wing
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