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8 Jan, 2008 20:16

Russian choppers flying high

Russia's helicopter industry is getting back on its feet, with new designs slated for production and a growing order book.

After a decade of falling output and a funding crisis, Russia’s helicopter makers are on the rise again. The government has come to the rescue, creating a holding company.  Two years ago it set up Russian Helicopters, to rationalise the business.
Russian Helicopters' Mil factory in Moscow has just finished initial testing of a new civil transport chopper, the Mi-38. It’s fitted with modern Canadian engines and French-made Thales avionics. If all goes well it will enter production in 2010, the first new civil design the firm has produced in quantity in more than twenty years.
General Designer at Mil, Aleksey Samusenko, is optimistic about the future.
“We think that we will get orders for up to 1,000 of the Mi-54 in Russia alone. The machine will have a choice of French, Canadian or Russian engines,” Samusenko said.
Mil hopes that another of its new designs, the five-tonne class Mi-54, will be a big hit with business operators.
And Mil is also building a new military helicopter, the Mi-28N Night Hunter, for the army.
But whether the new designs have come in time is another question. The industry is already talking to its Western competitors about building some of their designs under licence.
Aerospace journalist Maksim Pyadushkin says Russian manufacturers have traditionally been good at making large, military helicopters.
“But now the internal market demands smaller machines for corporate transportation, and, unfortunately, Russian producers don’t have such models,” Pyadushkin said.
But if the new helicopters entering production do well, and the industry is rationalised, Russia could regain its place among the ranks of the world’s leading manufacturers.