The Mil Mi-26 (Russian Миль Ми-26, NATO reporting name "Halo") is a Soviet/Russian heavy transport helicopter in service in civilian and military roles. It is the biggest and most powerful helicopter ever to have gone into production.
Design and development
The Mi-26 was designed as a heavy-lift helicopter intended for military and civil use. It was designed to replace the earlier Mi-6 and Mi-12 heavy lift helicopters, with a design that had twice the cabin space and payload of the Mi-6, then the world's largest and fastest production helicopter. The primary purpose was to move military equipment such as 28,000 pound amphibious armored personnel carriers, as well as move mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles to remote locations after delivery by an Antonov An-22 transport. The helicopter was designed by Marat Tishchenko, protogee of Mikhail Mil, founder of the design bureau OKB Mil. The first Mi-26 flew on 14 December 1977, and entered service in the Soviet military in 1983.
The Mi-26 was the first helicopter to operate with an eight-blade rotor. It is capable of single-engine flight in the event of loss of power by one engine (depending on aircraft mission weight) because of an engine load sharing system.
While it is only slightly heavier than the Mil Mi-6, it can lift up to 20 tons (tonnes) (40,000 lb) - 8 tons more than Mi-6.
Common unofficial nickname of Mi-26 in Russian military is "Korova" ("Cow").
The Mi-26 is the second largest and heaviest helicopter ever constructed, following the experimental Mi-12.
Chernobyl accident 1986
The Mi-26S was a hastily developed version for disaster relief tasks following the Chernobyl nuclear facility accident. It was equipped with deactivating liquid tank and underbelly spraying apparatus. The Mi-26S helicopter was operated in immediate proximity to a nuclear reactor. The filter system and protective screens mounted in the cabin protected the crew during the delivery of construction materials to the most dangerous zone, the zero point of the catastrophe.
World Team 1996
For three weeks in September 1996, the Russian military loaned four fully crewed Mi-26 helicopters, along with their airbase in Anapa, for the World Team’s attempt to set a new skydiving freefall formation world record. The World Team, led by Hollywood aerial stuntman B. J. Worth, is an international collection of some of the best skydivers from over 40 nations from around the world. The team’s goal in Anapa was to set a new world record 300-Way freefall formation utilizing the high altitude and high capacity of the Mi-26. In order to achieve this record, the World Team needed to get 300 participants plus aerial judges, photographers and cinematographers up to 22,000 feet quickly, and then simultaneously drop them all in to a tight formation. Having never attempted this type of close formation flying before, the Russian pilots and their Mi-26 helicopters performed flawlessly. While the goal of 300 skydivers locked in formation wasn’t achieved during these attempts, the Mi-26 did fly away with a new World Record 297-Way set on September 27, 1996.
Woolly Mammoth recovery
In October 1999 a Mi-26 was employed 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 Autonomous Okrug, where scientists hoped to study the find and perhaps try cloning it. The weight was so great that the Mi-26 had to be returned to the factory immediately after the lift to check for structural excesses that could have warped the airframe and rotors.
MH-47E Chinook recovery
In spring 2002 a civilian Mi-26 was leased to recover two U.S. Army MH-47E Chinook helicopters from a mountain in Afghanistan. The Chinooks were being operated by 10th Mountain Division and had been employed in Operation Anaconda, an effort in early March to drive al Qaeda and Taliban fighters out of the Shahi-Kot Valley and surrounding mountains. The Chinooks ended up stranded on the slopes above Sirkhankel at an altitude of 8,500 and 10,300 feet. The Chinook stranded at 10,300 feet was deemed too badly damaged to recover, but the other one at 8,500 feet was repairable. With all fuel, rotors and non-essential equipment removed the Chinook was estimated to weigh 26,500 pounds, too much for the Army's heavy lift helicopter, the Chinook, which could only lift 20,000 at 8,500 feet. An Mi-26 was located through Skylink Aviation in Toronto, which had connections with a Russian company called Sportsflite that operated three civilian versions of the Mi-26 called Heavycopters. One of the aircraft was in Tajikistan doing construction and firefighting work. The aircraft was leased for the recovery of the Chinook for $300,000. The Chinook was snatched with a hook and flown to Kabul, then later to Bagram Air Force Base in Parvan, Afganistan for shipment to Fort Campbell in Kentucky for repairs.
Six months later a second Army CH-47 that had made a hard landing 100 miles north of Bagram at an altitude of 4,000 feet was recovered by another Heavycopter operated by Sportsflite at a cost of $350,000.
Chechen crash and controversy
China's Wenchuan "Quake Lake" Emergency Heavy Lift Operations
As the result of the magnitude 8.0 Sichuan earthquake on 12 May 2008, many rivers became blocked by giant landslides, which resulted in the formation of "quake lakes"; massive amounts of water pooling up at a very high rate behind the landslide-formed dams which will eventually crumble under the weight of the ever increasing water mass, endangering the lives of potentially millions of people if the water is to build up, and then break downstream. The most precarious of these quake-lakes is the one located in the extremely difficult terrain at Tangjiashan mountain, accessible only by foot or air, in which at least one Mi-26 heavy lift helicopter belonging to a branch of China's civil aviation service is used to bring heavy earthmoving tractors to the affected location. This in conjunction with PLAAF Mil Mi-17 helicopters bringing in engineering corps, explosive specialists, and other personnel to join 1,200 soldiers who've already arrived on site by foot. Five tons of fuel to operate the machinery have also been airlifted onto location, where a sluice was constructed to allow the bleeding off of the bottlenecked water.
Published in July 2009.
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