Currently, the largest and most powerful helicopter to have ever entered production is the gargantuan Mi-26 'Halo' of Russian origin, of which many still serve in governmental and commercial roles around the globe. After decades of the 'Halo' being on top, a new record holder is now said to be on the way, with Russia and China joining forces to make it happen.
Cockpit of the highly modernized Mi-26T2, currently the most powerful and largest helicopter in the world.
This new super-heavy lift class chopper was originally thought to be an outgrowth of the existing, all-weather capable and highly modernized Mi-26T2, but now it seems that it will only borrow a few elements from it, and will overwhelmingly be a 'clean sheet' design.
The fresh design approach is due to China's eye popping requirements. According to Russia, they are said to include almost twice the lifting capacity of the already freakishly powerful and huge Mi-26. That would put the new chopper's lifting ability at somewhere around 80,000lbs! In comparison, the CH-53K 'King Stallion,' America's latest heavy lift design, has a total gross weight just slightly above that figure at 88,000lbs.
You heard that right, this new Russian-Chinese super chopper is aiming to be able to lift roughly the equivalent of America's newest heavy-lift chopper in its entirety, at its maximum gross weight. That is one powerful helicopter.
Originally, this new Russian-Chinese design was thought to be an outgrowth of the Mi-26T2, although this is now inaccurate as Chinese performance demands are far outside any existing designs' theoretical capabilities.
The Mi-26 can already haul vehicles that are larger than what can fit even into a C-130 Hercules, including everything from armored personnel carriers to dump trucks. Yet China has had a uniquely large demand for heavy under-slung cargo carrying ability, for both construction and logistical purposes and there has been talk for the last decade or two about how a super-heavy lift helicopter could change the way some structures are built. This is especially true for modular vertical oriented structures that are intended to be built fast and replicated quickly, an area of architecture and construction that China continues to be the leader in.
Just part of the massive cargo hold of the Mi-26T2. The aircraft has been nicknamed the 'flying office building' for a reason.
According to Russian reports, multiple Chinese agencies are part of this new mega-chopper procurement program, including those that deal with emergency management and response. This makes some sense as during a natural disaster, or even a time of conflict, moving massive amounts of supplies quickly will be all that much more critical considering China's massive population.
Mi-26 lifting a stricken CH-47 in Afghanistan:
The only other helicopter ever flown that could lift anything in the weight class that China is looking for was also of Russian origin: the colossal Mil V-12. Only two prototypes were built and test flown in the late 1960s, and the design used a unique parallel/traverse rotor, quad-engine layout. At first, the aircraft almost tore itself apart during testing, but later, the second prototype was seen widely as a successful, although uneconomic design.
The V-12 was built to haul close to close to 100k lbs, although normal missions were thought to see the super-chopper carry about 85,000lbs, with lighter loads being carried over increasingly longer distances.
The V-12 was never put into series production because its intended mission, to deploy ballistic missiles around the vastness of the Russian countryside, was not a priority by the time the design was mature. It is not clear if Russia plans on reviving similar design elements of the V12 program to meet China's high, or should I say heavy, vertical lift aspirations.
A cost has not been publicly assigned to the program, nor has there been word regarding what percentage Russia will share in the costs of developing such an exotic machine. Regardless of the public absence of some details, Russia says this new design requirements will be locked by the first quarter of 2015.
Photos: WikicCommons: Dmitry Avdeev (interior hold), Alex Beltyukov (Mi-26 on the Grass), Alex Beltyukov (Mi-26t2 cockpit), Kirill Naumenko (Mi-26t2 flying)
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com