September 30, 2010:
The Russian Mi-17 helicopter has become a hot export item. This can best be seen in the long waiting time (two years) to get a new one, and the increase in the price (by 50 percent in the last two years) for used ones. Used Mi-17s go for about $6.5 million, which is still half the price of a new one.
The Mi-17 is the export version of the Mi-8, a twin-engine helicopter, roughly equivalent to the U.S. UH-1. But the Mi-8/17 is still in production and is the most widely exported (2,800 out of 12,000 made) helicopter on the planet. The Mi-8 is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1, but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 had a larger interior, and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1.
The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. Russia also offers lower rates for training pilots and mechanics.
The latest model of the Mi-8/17 is particularly effective in "hot and high" environments (like Afghanistan, Burma or northern India), and the demand is particularly heavy in these countries. Over the years, the Mi-17 has become more reliable, partly because since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been able to import more efficient Western manufacturing equipment and techniques. Even some American Special Operations units use the Mi-17, without any undue concern over safety and reliability. Most of the commercial (civilian) helicopters in Russia are Mi-8s, and there is no concern over the safety of these robust and inexpensive helicopters. Mi-8/17s are built to last (with good maintenance) 35 years.