In January 2015 “Rostvertol”, a member of Rostec’s Russian Helicopters Holding, marks the 30th anniversary of the serial production launch of the world’s largest cargo helicopter, the Mi-26T. The machine is capable of carrying up to 20 tons of cargo, and is still holds the record for total carrying capacity.
Mi-26T was based on the Mi-26 military transport helicopter, the development of which began in the 70s at the M.L. Mil R&D Center, which is now also a member of Russian Helicopters. The Ministry of Defense, as the customer, was satisfied with the results of the helicopter’s testing and recommended that it be mass produced, as well as adopted into the Soviet army.
In 1981, the Mi-26 was first demonstrated at the International ParisAirShow at Le Bourget. The demonstration of the heavy-lifting helicopter to the world created a furor. Foreign customers became interested in the chopper.
The Mi-26 showed itself to be an exclusively reliable and high-performance helicopter, so plans were made to develop a civilian version. Today’s Mi-26T has become an indispensable vehicle for transporting heavy cargo in Russia and abroad.
The Mi-26T helicopter is capable of carrying up to 20 tons of equipment and massive cargo on its external suspension or in the cargo hold, and today it still holds the record for carrying capacity, according to a company press release.
The Mi-26T is different from its prototype with the inclusion of additional radio communication, navigation, and flight equipment, precision hovering system, color thermal imaging, and its lack of armor plating and amphibious or other military equipment. It significantly expanded the equipment, which would lead to a more efficient use of the helicopter when working with an external load. Since January 1985, the Mi-26T began to be produced commercially at Rostvertol.
In 1986, Aeroflot began to actively use the Mi-26T. The first company to obtain one was Tyumen airlines. The Mi-26T were particularly in demand during the development of oil and gas fields in Western Siberia. In 1986, the helicopters were used in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident.
Later, a new modification of the Mi-26T was developed to significantly increase its commercial value. In February 1996, at the flight test station in the Rostov factory, the refueling version of the Mi-26T rose for the first time in the sky. In September 1997, the Mi-26T helicopter first flew in its fire-fighting modification, equipped with an MAT-15 drain device, and in 1998 began to be mass produced. The fire-fighting version of the Mi-26T chopper was repeatedly used to extinguish fires in countries such as France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Cyprus and others.
Regardless of its use, the main function of the Mi-26T is to transport cargo. Its unique load capacity is in demand not only for daily tasks but also for the most extraordinary situations. One example is the transportation in 1999 of a 20-ton block of ice enclosing the carcass of a dead 20 thousand year-old mammoth.
In November 2001, in the village of Pavlovsk, the Mi-26T helicopter transported unique installation works – a dome and a cross for a Christian church. Twice, in 2002 and 2009, the chopper transported crashed US Air Force Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters, which weigh 11 tons each. In the summer of 2009, a Russian Emergencies Ministry helicopter transported a 27-meter Alinghi 5 catamaran from a shipyard in Villeneuve, where it was built on Lake Geneva. A month later, the Mi-26T continued operation and carried the catamaran on its external suspension across the Alps and landed safely in Genoa.
The Mi-26T helicopter was directly involved in the construction of the Olympic Games in Sochi, performing complex installation works. In particular, helicopters of this type are used when installing transmission towers built along the new highways, and for the construction of cable cars.
Despite the demand and its excellent flight specifications, the Mi-26T is constantly being upgraded. The upgraded Mi-26T2 is currently undergoing flight tests with a reduced number of crew members, a “glass” cockpit, advanced avionics, and night-flight operation capability, which significantly improves its ergonomics and reduces the load on the crew.
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