Over the past several months, the Russian Helicopters holding has taken several important steps to break into the market segments for light and medium rotorcraft; these niches have remained historically underserved by Russian helicopter manufacturers. The company also identified the initial parameters of a future heavy-lift aircraft to eventually replace the best-selling Mil Mi-8/17 family.
In early September this year, Russian Helicopter landed its first civilian contract for the Kamov Ka-226T light helicopter. The 3,600-kg MTOW version differs from the Ka-226 baseline in the more powerful Turbomeca Arrius 2G1 engines. The Ka-226T was originally developed as Russia’s bid in the Indian defense ministry’s tender for 197 light helicopters. The Russian defense and emergencies ministries, as well as the Russian Federal Security Service have also been named among potential customers for this model.
Although the contract for the 18 Ka-226TG helicopters was formally placed by NefteGazAeroCosmos research and production centre, in reality the first commercial examples of the aircraft will be delivered to Gazpromavia, one of the largest rotorcraft operators in Russia. The first six airframes are to be delivered in 2013, with the remaining 12 to follow in 2014. Gazpromavia will use the helicopters for pipeline patrols, repair operations, personnel and corporate transportation in the interest of its parent company – Gazprom gas monopolist.
The Ka-226TG version is developed especially for Gazpromavia, to be operated in Far North and arctic shelf areas, in poor visibility and extreme differentials in air temperature. It carries the KBO-226TG equipment which allows for operations far away from home base, at night, in fog and heavy precipitation. The aircraft has an extra fuel tank for additional flight range. Russian Helicopters general director Dmitry Petrov says one Gazpromavia-standard helicopter comes with a price tag of over 300 mln rubles ($10 mln).
Before the end of 2012 Russian Helicopters expects to begin deliveries of 6.4-ton AgustaWestland AW139 medium helicopters. The aircraft will be assembled at the Russian-Italian joint venture HeliVert in Tomilino, outside Moscow. The first knockdown kits were shipped to Russia in May 2012. AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolinin told Russia & CIS Observer this summer that the first two Russian-assembled AW139s would be delivered before year-end. The partners decline to name the launch customer but there are indications that it will be either UTair Aviation or the Russian presidential air wing. In 2013 the Tomilino facility is expected to assemble between seven and 10 helicopters, and should reach its annual design capacity of 20 airframes by 2015. These helicopters will be sold in Russia and the CIS.
Russian Helicopters and AgustaWestland earlier this year announced their plans to further expand cooperation. The partners signed a framework agreement to jointly design, manufacture, and market a 2.5-ton signle-engine helicopter. Spagnolini told it would be a completely new model that would have nothing to do with the Italian manufacturer’s existing 2.5-ton AW119 Koala product. The partners will share the development costs on a parity basis; they promised to announce the rundown of responsibilities at a later date. The new helicopter will be marketed all over the world.
Spagnolini declined to speculate on the possible date of the first flight, saying it will take place as soon as feasible. He added that the new helicopter will be manufactured in Russia: "Our joint venture with Russian Helicopters has enough floor space to assemble this model."
Also this summer, Russian Helicopters publicized the results of another phase in the program to develop a high-speed helicopter. In the early days of this effort, the corporation’s Mil and Kamov helicopter design houses were working on individual high-speed concepts, codenamed Mi-X1 and Ka-92 respectively (the latter was to have coaxial main rottor). Both projects had an aft pusher propeller for a sharp increase in airspeed.
In June 2012, Russian Helicopters presented a mock-up of the Russian Advanced Commercial Helicopter (RACHEL), which is being developed under the high-speed rotorcraft program. RACHEL is planned as a 10-12-ton commercial utility helicopter capable of carrying 21-24 passengers. It is meant as an eventual replacement for the Mi-8/17 family, whose latest modernized version, the Mi-171A2, will shortly become available. Russian Helicopters expects RACHEL to join the heavier Mi-38 transport in strengthening the corporation’s positions on international markets.
The Russian manufacturer has already conducted a market analysis, defined the future model’s technical priorities and specifications, and run a feasibility and risk-assessment study. In the course of discussions with potential commercial customers the developers arrived at the conclusion that high speed is not currently a key priority frame price.
"High efficiency of commercial operations was our main criterion in developing the concept of the new helicopter," says Petrov. "A joint market study in cooperation with helicopter operators allowed us to define a number of key parameters to be implemented, and to arrive at several conceptual solutions which we believe will fortunately combine innovative technology, environmental friendliness, and high economic efficiency."
Mil and Kamov in 2011 and 2012 ran against each other in a contest for the best conceptual design of a high-speed helicopter. Both designs received high marks from the Russian Helicopters jury panel. The Mil design however was found to better reflect the demands of the market, so this design house will now continue work on the RACHEL program.
RACHEL, dubbed V-37 by the developers, is a classic helicopter design with one main rotor and one tail rotor. In its baseline configuration it will have a convertible passenger/cargo cabin. The helicopter will have two new turboshaft engines, a new-generation main rotor, and advanced avionics. The V-37’s range and cruise speed are expected to be significantly higher than those of the Mi-8/17 family. The prospective rotorcraft will be able to travel at up to 360 kph, primarily thanks to streamlined main rotor blades and fuselage.
Mil plans to build a flying testbed in 2013 to verify technology solutions being proposed for the V-37. The results of these tests should be analyzed by 2014, after which Russian Helicopters expects to select primary suppliers in a tender. Certification of the future helicopter is set for 2018, with deliveries to follow in 2020.