Air Transportation: Two Kinds Of Longevity


January 12, 2018: In mid-December 2017 India retired the last of the 107 Mi-8 transport helicopters it had acquired between 1971 and 1988. These were gradually replaced by 151 Mi-17s starting in the 1990s. The Mi-17 is used by over fifty countries with Russia and China being the largest users but is really just an upgraded Mi-8 originally meant mainly for the export market (which is more demanding than the Russian military).

The M-17 is actually more than just an updated Mi-8. The Mi-17 has evolved into a popular and inexpensive transport helicopter. Yet the Mi-17 can easily be modified to carry weapons, or any other specialized gear. Some of the Mi-171s are even being equipped with radars and other sensors, to be used for reconnaissance and surveillance. The Mi-17 has evolved into a more modern aircraft than the Mi-8 even though the two still look quite similar.

Weighing about 14 tons, and carrying a four ton load, the Mi-17 has a range of 800 kilometers at a cruising speed of 260 kilometers per hour. Top speed is 280 kilometers per hour. There is a crew of three and as many passengers as can be squeezed in (up to 40 people, but usually 20-30.) A sling underneath can also carry up to four tons. Some 17,000 Mi-8/17 helicopters have been built since the 1960s with about twenty percent exported. The Mi-17 is, like it Mi-8 ancestor, rugged, inexpensive ($4-5 million each) and better suited for less affluent nations. For many nations the additional performance and reliability of similar, and much more expensive, Western models is not worth it or simply too expensive. Thus many countries will even use some Mi-17s as VIP (Very Important Person) transports for senior military and other government officials. The VIP models are carefully selected (from what the government, usually just the military) has and then lavished with more attention (more skilled mechanics, more frequent checkups and maintenance and access to spares). These VIP helicopters are usually as safe as much more costly Western designs. The Russian manufacturer will even include VIP features for new or existing Mi-17s.

Its’ interesting to note that the Mi-8s contemporary (developed a decade earlier), the American UH-1, continues to be used in large numbers, as do many Mi-8s. But there are also several upgraded UH-1 models (most for the non-military market) but easily converted to all sorts of uses. Nevertheless in terms of simplicity and economy the Mi-8/17 has an edge.


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