Inside Putin's Presidential Helicopter Fleet

Russia's equivalent to Marine One is an updated version of the tried and true Russian rotary-wing workhorse, the Mil Helicopter Plant's Mi-8 "Hip."

The Mi-8's bulbous silhouette, along with its cousin the Mi-24 Hind's more menacing shape, were icons of the Cold War. Yet many decades after their original introduction, these capable and comparatively simple machines continue to be produced in dozens of formats for air arms around the world. In fact well over 17,000 "Hips" have been built, making it the most prevalent helicopter on earth. Even Afghanistan, a country that once fell victim to these helicopter's deadly capabilities, continue to operate updated versions instead of their more complex western counterparts such as the UH-60 Blackhawk, and not without controversy.

Fast forward decades later and the Mi-8, in the form of the updated Mi-8M/Mi-17 model, continues to be the transport helicopter of choice for the Russian military. Even though Russia could purchase high end medium or heavy twin engine or tri-engine helicopters from western manufacturers, the Mi-8 retains the most sensitive flying job in all of Russia, moving President Putin from one location to another.

Russia has in fact acquired a new VIP helicopter, the Agusta Westland AW139, a very modern medium twin-engine chopper of British and Italian descent. Still, the appearance of the AW139 in Russian colors and providing executive transport duties may have something to do with the fact that Italy and Russia had come to an agreement in which some AW139s would be assembled in Russia. Currently, Russia's pair of AW139s seem to be Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's personal chariots as President Putin has not flown on one yet, apparently greatly prefers the lumbering Mi-8.

Currently, Russia's fleet of executive choppers is primarily operated by Roosiya Airlines, same goes with the rest of Russia's head of state transport fleet. This inventory includes close to forty aircraft ranging from the quad motored Air Force One equivalent, the Il-96, to a pair of newly acquired Falcon 7X long range business jets capable of short field operations.

Although Vlad still likes the old school Mi-8 for his point to point transportation needs, and now for his morning commute as well, that does not mean he is roughing it by any means.

The Mi-8MTV (Hip-H), outfitted for VVIP use, can be recognized by their square as opposed to round windows, as well as the fact that they are usually bristling with elongated external fuel tanks, additional auxiliary power units, antennas farms and infrared countermeasures. These countermeasures currently include infrared flares but may also include a directed laser countermeasure system such as the Russian built "PRESIDENT-S."

On the inside these Mi-8MTVs are reminiscent of President Obama's Marine One, with large club chairs, high-end wood trims, additional sofa seating, a restroom and in-flight communications and video systems. Additionally, the rear clam shell doors that are such a touted feature on the "Hip" are retained and cargo or luggage can be loaded through these doors into a rear compartment without disturbing those seated inside or are in the process of boarding the forward "Solon" cabin.

The Mi-8MTV is part of the Mi-8M family, otherwise known as the Mi-17 for export versions. This newer generation of "Hips" feature uprated engines for better "hot and high" performance, a strengthened airframe, more advanced avionics and an enhanced drivetrain borrowed partially from the Mi-14. You can tell a newer version of the Mi-8 from the original version by looking at the tail rotor, it is on the port instead of starboard side. The Mi-8MTV variant also features a weather radar in its basic form, before being highly modified into one of Putin's flying limos. The cost of a basic Mi-8MTV is said to be around four million dollars before any additional features are added.

The size of the Presidential Mi-8 fleet is not clear, although at least two exist wearing the gray, red and blue color scheme. Additionally, a similarly equipped version in full Russian glossy green camouflage has been pictured which may be an Army executive transport. From time to time, President Putin also uses an executive Mi-8 with blue stripes that appears to be operated by the Russian airline Aeroflot. A fleet of four to six primary aircraft is likely, with other similarly equipped Russian executive transports operated by the Russian Military and Aeroflot used when needed.

Now let's take a look at the inside of Russia's "Marine One," the Presidential Mi-8MTV, as well as Dmitry Medvedev's helicopter of choice, or maybe of default, Russia's new AW139s (click here for comparison shots of America's VH-3D "Marine One" interior):

Photo are all via AP aside from Putin in helicopter in khaki shirt- Presidential Office, Putin meeting Army official in rain-Anadolu Agency/Getty Images, Putin with Cameron moving hand- ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images, helicopter by gold dome-MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images