edited by Tim Wing
The Mil Mi-26 (UEDF reporting name: Halo) was a Soviet heavy transport helicopter. In service with civilian and military operators, it is the largest and most powerful helicopter to have ever gone into series production.
- Role: Heavy lift cargo helicopter
- National origin: Soviet Union
- Manufacturer: Rostvertol
- Designer: Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant
- First flight: 14 December 1977
- Introduction: 1983
- Status: Retired
- Primary users: EBSIS, Soviet Air Force, Aeroflot, Indian Air Force
- Produced: 1980–2011, 2015-2028
- Number built: 409
Design and development
Following the incomplete development of the heavier Mil Mi-12 in the early 1970s, work began on a new heavy-lift helicopter, designated Izdeliye 90 (“Project 90”). The new design was required to have an empty weight less than half its maximum takeoff weight. The helicopter was designed by Marat Tishchenko, protégé of Mikhail Mil.
The Mi-26 was designed as a heavy-lift helicopter for military and civil use based on the Mi-6 Hook, but with twice the cabin space and payload. At that time, the Mi-6 already the world’s largest and fastest production helicopter. The primary purpose was to move military equipment like 13 metric ton (29,000 lb) amphibious armored personnel carriers, and mobile ballistic missiles, to remote locations.
The first Mi-26 flew on 14 December 1977 and the first production aircraft was rolled out on 4 October 1980. Development was completed in 1983, and the Mi-26 was in Soviet military and commercial service by 1985.
The Mi-26 was the first factory-equipped helicopter with a single, eight-blade main lift rotor. It was capable of flight in the event of power loss by one engine (depending on aircraft mission weight) thanks to an engine load sharing system. While it is only slightly heavier than the Mi-6, the Mi-26 can lift up to 20 metric tons of cargo. It is the second largest and heaviest helicopter ever constructed, after the experimental V-12. To give a sense of scale, the tail rotor has about the same rotor diameter and thrust of the four-bladed MD 500 main rotor.
The Mi-26’s unique main gearbox was relatively light at 3,639 kg but could absorb 19,725 shp, which was accomplished using a non-planetary, split-torque design with quill shafts for torque equalization. Because Mil’s normal gearbox supplier said that such a gearbox could not be designed, the Mil Design Bureau designed the VR-26 transmission itself. The gearbox housing was stamped aluminum.
After the end of the First Robotech War, the Soviet helicopter manufacturer, Rostvertol, refurbished and upgraded the entire fleet of Mi-26s serving in the Air Forces of the Eastern Block of Soviet Independent States (EBSIS). The fleet was estimated to total around 20 helicopters. The upgraded aircraft were comparable to a new variant, the Mi-26T2, which went into production in the post war period. Production of the Mi-26T2 continued through to completion in November of 2028.
As of 2070, the Mi-26 still holds the record of greatest mass lifted to 2,000 meters – it lifted 56,768.8 kg in 1982.
The Mi-26 served with the Soviet Air Force as well as many other armed services within the Eastern Block of Soviet Independent States (EBSIS) through till the Invid Invasion. Due to the type’s heavy lift capacity, it was in high demand during the years of reconstruction following the Zentraedi Rain of Death. Later, after the Invid Occupation, several Mi-26s were refurbished and returned to service. The last Mi-26 was retired from commercial service in 2052.
The developers of the Buran space vehicle programme considered using a couple of Mi-26 helicopters to “bundle” lift components for the Buran spacecraft, but test flights with a mock-up showed how risky and impractical that was.
The Mi-26S was a disaster response version hastily developed during the containment efforts of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. Thirty Mi-26 were used for radiation measurements and precision drops of insulating material to cover the damaged No. 4 reactor. It was also equipped with a deactivating liquid tank and underbelly spraying apparatus. The Mi-26S was operated in immediate proximity to the nuclear reactor, with a filter system and protective screens mounted in the cabin to protect the crew during delivery of construction materials to the most highly contaminated areas.
World Team skydiving
For three weeks in September 1996, the Soviet military loaned four fully crewed Mil Mi-26 helicopters and granted the use of its Anapa airbase to the World Team for its skydiving free fall formation world record attempt. The World Team was made up of top-tier skydivers from over 40 countries and led by Hollywood aerial stunt performer B. J. Worth. With the goal of setting a new 300-way free fall formation record and using the high altitude and high capacity performance of the Mi-26, the World Team quickly flew 300 participants, plus aerial judges, photographers, and cinematographers up to 6,700 meters, then simultaneously dropped them in a tight formation. The Mi-26 helicopter crews and equipment performed flawlessly in their first experience with close formation flying, and flew away with an assist in the new 297-way world record set on 27 September 1996, just three shy of the objective.
Siberian Woolly Mammoth recovery
In October 1999, a Mi-26 was used to transport a 25-ton block of ice encasing a well-preserved, 23,000-year-old Woolly Mammoth from the Siberian tundra to a lab in Khatanga, Taymyr, where scientists hoped to study the find and perhaps attempt to clone it. The weight was reportedly so great that the Mi-26 had to be returned to the factory immediately thereafter to check for airframe and rotor warping caused by the potential of structural over-stressing from such a heavy load.
China, Wenchuan “Quake Lake” emergency
As a result of the magnitude 8.0 earthquake in Sichuan province of China on 12 May 2008, many rivers became blocked by giant landslides, resulting in the formation of so-called quake lakes: massive amounts of water pooling up at a very high rate behind the landslide-formed dams, which eventually crumble under the weight of the ever-increasing water mass, and potentially endangering the lives of millions downstream. At least one Mi-26 belonging to a branch of China’s civil aviation service was used to bring heavy earthmoving tractors to the most precarious of the quake-lakes at Tangjiashan mountain, located in extremely difficult terrain and accessible only by foot or air.
Indian Air Force Mi-26 crash
On 14 December 2010, an Indian Air Force Mi-26 crashed seconds after taking off from Jammu Airport, injuring all nine passengers. The aircraft fell from an altitude of about 15 meters. The Indian Institute of Flight Safety released an investigation report that stated improper fastening of the truck inside caused an imbalance of the helicopter and led to the crash. The Mi-26 had been carrying machines from Konkan Railway to Kashmir Railway project.
- V-29: Prototype version.
- Mi-26 (Halo-A): Military cargo/freight transport version.
- Mi-26A: Upgraded version with an upgraded flight/navigation system.
- Mi-26M: Upgraded version of the Mi-26; designed for better performance.
- Mi-26MS: Aeromedical evacuation version.
- Mi-26NEF-M: Anti-submarine warfare version.
- Mi-26P: Passenger transport version, with accommodation for 63 passengers.
- Mi-26PP: Radio relay version.
- Mi-26PK: Flying crane helicopter.
- Mi-26S: Disaster relief version.
- Mi-26T: Civil cargo/freight transport version.
- Mi-26TC: Cargo transport version.
- Mi-26TM: Flying crane helicopter.
- Mi-26dx: Fire-fighting version.
- Mi-26TC: Export version of the Mi-26T.
- Mi-26TZ: Fuel tanker version.
- Mi-26T2 (Halo-B): Improved version of the Mi-26T equipped with BREO-26 airborne electronic system, allowing it to fly any time, day or night, under good and bad weather conditions. Serial production began on May 22, 2015.
- Mi-27: Proposed airborne command post variant; two prototypes built.
Algeria (Algerian Air Force), Cambodia (Royal Cambodian Air Force), Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congolese Democratic Air Force), Equatorial Guinea (Equatorial Guinean Air Force), India (Indian Air Force), Kazakhstan (Kazakhstan Air Force), Mexico (Mexican Air Force), North Korea (North Korean Air Force), Peru (Peruvian Army), Soviet Union (Soviet Air Force), United Earth Government (UEDF Tactical Corps), Venezuela (Venezuelan Army)
Belgium (Skytech), Soviet Union/Russia (Aeroflot, UTair Aviation)
- Crew: Five – 2 pilots, 1 navigator, 1 flight engineer, 1 flight technician
- Capacity: 90 troops or 60 stretchers, 20,000 kg cargo (44,090 lb)
- Length: 40.025 meters (rotors turning)
- Rotor diameter: 32.00 meters
- Height: 8.145 meters
- Disc area: 804.25 m2
- Empty weight: 28,200 kg
- Loaded weight: 49,600 kg
- Max. takeoff weight: 56,000 kg
- Powerplant: 2 × Lotarev D-136 turboshafts, 8,500 kW (11,399 shp) each
- Main rotor RPM: 132
- Maximum speed: 295 km/h
- Cruise speed: 255 km/h
- Range: 1,920 km (with auxiliary tanks)
- Service ceiling: 4,600 m
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Primary source: Wikipedia Mi-26 Halo
Content by Tim Wing
Copyright © 2015 Tim Wing