Mi-8 - In Action
The Mi-8, a veritable 'aerial taxicab', has gained widespread use in Russia's military and civil aviation; in this it has surpassed its predecessor, the Mi-4, and has become a truly mass-produced machine. It is difficult to imagine a field of civil or military operations where the Mi-8 does not find application. These multi-purpose rotorcraft are used for civil transportation, oil and gas prospecting support, supply of oil rigs and remote settlements, the transportation of working teams to oil fields, flying-crane operations in civil engineering, search and rescue operations, urgent cargo deliveries, ambulance and fire-fighting duties. They serve the needs of police and customs authorities, in forestry and agriculture, for the transportation of passengers etc.
The Soviet Armed Forces put the Mi-8 into operational service in 1965. Being regarded as 'light transport helicopters', they were operated by independent helicopter regiments and squadrons of the Air Force and of the Strategic Missile Forces. Mi-8 deliveries to the Navy, various law enforcement agencies and government services began a while later. Starting in the mid-1960s, no major military actions in or by the USSR were undertaken without the employment of these helicopters (this included military exercises, natural disaster relief operations, conflicts on the border between the USSR and China, introduction of troops in Czechoslovakia etc.)
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the crews of the Mi-8 multi-purpose helicopters continue to perform conscientiously their difficult soldiers' duty in 'hot spots' of Russia and the CIS. The 'eights' have been widely used during the ethnic conflicts in Nagornyy Karabakh and Abkhazia and the civil war in Tajikistan. The unique high-altitude performance of the Mi-8MTV has made it indispensable in mountainous areas. Only this helicopter can support combat activities at altitudes exceeding 3,500-4,000 metres.
Unfortunately, the 'eights' also have to take part in military operations on Russian territory. They have been widely used during the anti-terrorist operations in Chechnya. Several Mi-8 squadrons saw action there in 1995. Direct combat employment of these workhorses was limited in scope. The Mi-8s were used primarily for the transportation of troops and their rotation at battlefield positions, for the supply of ammunition and food, for casualty evacuation (CASEVAC), as well as for evacuating refugees and rendering comprehensive humanitarian aid to the local population. Once again the good old Mi-8 was put to the test, being subjected to all sorts of conceivable and inconceivable adverse factors. For most of the winter the North Caucasus is characterized by low clouds, sudden fogs, abrupt deterioration of visibility and intensive icing in flight. Coupled with the sophisticated and considerably more skilled adversary, all this created operational conditions that at times were more difficult than during the Afghan war.
Considerably more intensive was the employment of the Mi-8 helicopters in the Caucasus in the period of 1999-2000. This time the adversary was much better prepared and armed. In September 1999, when the hostilities began, the aviation complement of the Federal troops had 68 helicopters in its inventory, including 26 Mi-8s and two Mi-9 ABCPs. In the course of combat activities the Mi-8Ts possessing insufficient high-altitude performance were replaced by improved Mi-8MTs and Mi-8MTVs which once more demonstrated their excellent performance, high reliability, effectiveness and survivability while operating in mountainous areas.
Compared to the Afghan war, the helicopter inventory required for the support of the same number of troops was four times smaller. The extremely intensive fighting on all operational directions made the aviation complement's command relinquish the centralized use of aircraft and assign aviation units to each of the specific operational directions under the guidance of the respective commands: the Northern, the Eastern and the Western command. A small reserve group remained at the disposal of the supreme command. As the troops advanced, helicopter groups were formed on a daily basis to ensure effective use of the aircraft and prompt suppression of enemy fire; they comprised two or three Mi-8s and two to four Mi-24s backed up by appropriate supplies and stationed at the forward command posts of the operational directions. When the helicopters were tasked with airlifting tactical assault groups in the mountains, some helipads were designated as base pads; in the course of an operation they accommodated eight to ten Mi-8s. Their crews made landings on unprepared pads in the mountains at 2,000 to 3,000 m above sea level.
Despite adverse weather conditions, the helicopters logged on average 4 to 6 hours per day. The flights were performed at ultra-low level in poor visibility conditions and the crews were subjected to heavy stress, both moral and physical. For example, when airlifting tactical assault groups, some Mi-8 crews made as many as 52 landing a day.
When fulfilling missions associated with the delivery of tactical assault groups, conducting aerial reconnaissance and rescuing military personnel, six to eight helicopters sustained battle damage every day. Most of them were promptly repaired and put back into service. Once again Mil' hardware demonstrated its unique reliability and survivability. The powerplant and transmission of the 'eights' proved especially reliable.
Apart from combat activities, transport and troop-carrier Mi-8s are widely used for performing other important duties, such as search and rescue, urgent delivery of cargoes, evacuation of sick persons, border surveillance etc. In 1986 Mi-8s from Army Aviation units took an active part in the damage control activities in the wake of the Chernobyl' nuclear disaster. They were used to spread radiation neutralizing materials from under sling containers and to monitor radiation levels.
Mi-8 helicopters constitute the bulk of the aviation complement of peace-keeping troops of the UN, Russia and some other countries. The 'eights' have been operated side-by-side with rotary-wing machines from other countries. This has given the Mil' workhorses an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their best qualities. Sometimes funny episodes occur. On one occasion, two helicopters were assigned to support the activities of the UN mission in Cambodia; they included one Mi-8 and one French Eurocopter Puma, both of approximately the same class. As usual, the Russian workhorse was operated from early morning till late at night regardless of the weather; as for the French chopper, it was immediately stowed away into a hangar as soon as a tropical rain or a sandstorm set in. As a result, the Mi-8 logged 70 to 100 hours per month as compared to 20 to 30 hours for the Puma. Cautious foreign employees of the mission explained this fact by alleging that the Russians 'operated their machine mercilessly, disregarding the airworthiness standards'; they demanded that the reliability of the Mi-8 be subjected to a thorough check. One can imagine their surprise when the most stringent checks did not reveal any deficiencies or breaches of flight safety on the Russian helicopter.
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