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Mi-8 - World-Wide Service

In the history of world helicopter construction the Mi-8 is unmatched in its class as far as production scale is concerned. In all, more than 11,000 have been built (some 7,300 in Kazan' and other 3,800 in Ulan-Ude). The famous Sikorsky Company with its numerous subsidiaries manufactured 1,500 Sikorsky S-61 Sea King helicopters and more than 2,000 Sikorsky S-70s. The mighty Boeing Corporation together with Japanese companies built only 740 Boeing V-107 Sea Knight. The French and the Chinese built no more than 105 SA-321 Super Frelon helicopters. Concerning the number of machines built, the Mi-8 has been surpassed only by the Bell 204/205/212 family of light utility helicopters (maximum take-off weight amounts to 5.5 tonnes, empty weight is of 2.75 tonnes) whose overall number approached to 14,000. However, if you take the aggregate weight of the airframes (airframe weight multiplied by the number of machines built) and the aggregate payload, the Mi-8 programme surpasses all other programmes in the history of world helicopter construction. The same applies to the extent of the Mi-8's presence in the world. At present there is hardly a country in the world where Mil's famous 'flying truck' has not been operated.

Foreign orders for this versatile machine began coming in immediately after it was shown for the first time at the Le Bourget Aerospace Show in 1965. Foreign trade agencies of the USSR concluded the first contract for the delivery of the Mi-8 with a firm from the Netherlands. Later the helicopter was resold to the United States where it was operated by Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. This was followed by orders from the United Arab Republic, Iraq and Yugoslavia, as well as from other Socialist and third world countries. Also many industrially developed countries took an interest in the reliable and economically efficient machine. Fifteen years later the Mi-8 was already operated by more than 50 coun­tries of the world. The list of importer countries expands with every passing year. The Aviaexport agency alone delivered more than four thousand Mi-8s and Mi-17s to foreign customers. There was time when almost half of currency earnings was received by the Aviaexport agency as a result of delivery of the above mentioned aircraft.

These multi-purpose helicopters have seen widespread service all over the world; from the early 1970s they have been used in almost all major military conflicts. The Mi-8 got its baptism of fire during the war between India and Pakistan in 1971, but the Mil' workhorse's first employment en masse took place two years later during the war between Arab countries and Israel in 1973-1974. Mi-8T helicopters were used for landing tactical assault parties on the territory of the enemy for the purpose of seizing strongholds on the high ground, for delivery of ammunition, food, medi­cines and other urgent cargoes to units at forward positions, for searching and rescuing both own and enemy pilots who had been shot down and had ejected, for CASEVAC duties, for visual reconnaissance and artillery spotting. The sorties involved nap-of-the-earth (NOE) flying, using hills and mountains for cover.

In this conflict the helicopters operated under extremely difficult conditions. The strong adversary made effective use of anti-aircraft defense. The land­ing of assault groups which accounted for more than a third of all the sorties was performed directly at the enemy's artillery positions without prior preparation of the landing sites. Reconnaissance and close air support of the landing parties were conducted very inefficient­ly. The sand whirls produced during take-offs and land­ings betrayed the helicopters' presence and strongly affected the work of assemblies and systems - primari­ly the powerplant. Maintenance and servicing and field repairs were very poorly organized, the skill of air and ground crews left much to be desired. Nevertheless, the Mi-8Ts had an excellent operational record under the heavy conditions of desert terrain and strong oppo­sition from the enemy. Their survivability in combat quickly became legendary. A case is on record when a Mi-8 sustained combat damage in 36 places; the parts hit by bullets included three main rotor blade spars, the hydraulic and lubrication systems, fuel tanks, flight con­trol linkage and the tail rotor pylon. Still, the helicopter made a safe landing and was back in service just seven days later. The transport and troop-carrier Mi-8s sent to the Middle East were followed by other versions: transport/combat, SAR, ECM machines, maritime minesweepers etc. Since then the Arab region has been among the main users of the Mi-8.

The delivery of Mi-8 helicopters to the Arab countries was accompanied by deliveries of this type also to Vietnam. As distinct from its debut in the Middle East, in Indochina this helicopter was not only used as a trans­port and troop-carrier machine but also for battlefield fire support. The Mi-8 came too late to be used widely in the battles in South Vietnam, but it was efficaciously used by the armed forces of Vietnam during subse­quent military actions in Kampuchea (Cambodia), Laos and the border conflict with China. While the operation in the Middle East put the Mi-8 to a test in the dry and dusty desert climate, in Indochina it had to prove its worth in the humid subtropical climate. The helicopter's outstanding capabilities were duly appraised not only by Vietnam's allies but also by the adversaries. At present South-East Asia is also among the main markets for the Mi-8 helicopter.

Yet another combat trial for the Mi-8 was the bloody Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. This was the first time when the Mil' workhorse was used together with its younger stable-mate, the Mi-24 combat helicopter. Since then the Mi-8/Mi-24 'duet' has been 'staging combat performances' with great success in different parts of the globe. Besides, the Iran-Iraq war was characteristic in that it involved simultaneous use not only of Soviet-produced helicopters but also of rotary-wing machines from virtually all European and US hel­icopter manufacturers. The military personnel of both Iran and Iraq had a unique opportunity to compare the helicopters directly in battle and appraise the undoubted advantages of the Mi-8. The helicopter was operated in such conditions and with such an intensity which were unthinkable for other types of rotorcraft; it confirmed its reputa­tion of the most efficient and unde­manding air vehicle for war.

Following the Middle East and Indochina, the Mi-8 helicopter made its entry into different parts of the gigantic continent of Africa. These helicopters were efficacious­ly used in large numbers during fierce battles in Mozambique, Angola, at the Horn of Africa, in the military operations of Libyan armed forces and in the innumer­able minor military conflicts, many of which persist to this day. The Mi-8 successfully stood the test of Africa with its hot tropical climate, deserts and mountainous terrain, the shortage of water supply, the rudimentary infrastructure and the poorly-trained local flight and ground crews. The history of the Mi-8's combat use in Africa is also full of heroic episodes. During one combat mission in Angola a Cuban pilot flying an Angolan Mi-8 downed an enemy Aerospatiale Puma helicopter firing a salvo of unguided rockets. The Mi-8 is con­sidered to be the most prominent type among the helicopters engaged in combat on the Black Continent.

In the 1980s military versions of the Mi-8 made their appearance in the skies of America as well. Following the example of Cuba, the Sandino's following armed forces of Nicaragua and the armed forces of the Republic of Peru put these helicopters into service. The above helicopters proved so effec­tive in the battles in tropical rain forests and mountainous areas that many other countries which, until then, had used only US-built rotorcraft decided to order the Mil' workhorse. At present Mi-8 helicopters are used by military men of the above countries in police operations against tough organizations of drug cartels.

Mi-8 helicopters have also had their share of bat­tlefield experience in Europe. It is Mi-8 which is the backbone of the helicopter invento­ry of the countries which emerged after the breakup of Yugoslavia; it has been widely used by these countries, as well as by the UN forces, during the last ten years in numerous military conflicts in the Balkans. The outstanding high-altitude performance of this 'aerial taxicab' is just what is needed in the mountainous terrain of this region. The battle-proven Mi-8 helicopter can be considered by right, on a par with the famous Kalashnikov assault rifle, to be a kind of symbol of the successes of the Soviet/Russian defense industry and of the coun­try's military hardware export in the world markets.

After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the sale of their arsenals by the former member-countries it appears impossible to trace the fate of specific examples of the Mi-8s. They appear suddenly in the remotest corners of the world.

At present the Mi-8 are officially adopted in more than one hundred countries of the world. They are also on the list in the arsenals of not recognized states (the Serb Republic, Abkhasia, the Transdniester Republic, etc.) and military organizations.

The geography of distribution of Mi-8 civil purpose helicopters is much more extended. Nowadays it is practically impossible to find on the globe map a country which wouldn't use a legendary Mi-8 of the Mil company.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:19:00 ZULU