Staff Writer (Updated: 5/6/2016):
Origins and Development
Following the end of hostilities that was the Korean War, attention turned to the evolving nature of the battlefield as it related to the helicopter. The Korean War saw the first large-scale use of the helicopter in a variety of roles and the Soviet Army lacked any viable use of the vehicle type. War across Europe - should the Cold War ever go hot - would involve the coordination of thousands of troops coupled with air support and ground support to wage an effective war along multiple fronts. While armored vehicle carriers certainly had their place in Soviet doctrine, thought was given to move mechanized warfare into a new category by delivering a heavily armed assault helicopter capable of transporting combat-ready personnel into critical situations.
Various designs were tossed about with the Soviet firm of Mil heading the initiative. American involvement in the Vietnam War ushered in the new and viable concept of the armed helicopter as both transport and gunnery platform and Soviet authorities were convinced of a similar design. The Soviets initially took to arming their Mil Mi-4 "Hound" helicopters for the role but this was nothing more than an interim attempt. Mil - with founder Mikhail Mil in the lead role himself - eventually was tabbed for the endeavor and the ground work was laid for a competing armed helicopter of Soviet origin. The formal Soviet request occurred on May 6th, 1968 for a heavily armed and armored, twin-engine helicopter of great capability an survivability. The official Mil design (to be known as the Mi-24) was signed off in February of 1969.
Development of the new helicopter essentially stemmed from the strengths of Mil's preceding product - the Mi-8 "Hip". This included the engine arrangement as well as a slightly-modified main rotor attached to a two-person cockpit ahead of a passenger cabin. The fuselage was all-new in its design approach, intended to provide a much smaller head-on target to the enemy. The cockpit design saw the pilot and co-pilot seated in tandem under a joined glass cockpit, heavily framed and boxy in appearance.
First flight of a prototype occurred on September 19th, 1969, this days after a tethered prototype went airborne. These prototypes were eventually joined y ten developmental vehicles which eventually culminated in evaluations beginning June of 1970. This produced several design changes to the original arrangement (including flipping the direction of the tail rotor and adding the Hind-style ordnance-carrying wings to the mix). The type was finally accepted for serial production and formally introduced into Soviet military service in 1972 - beginning the legacy of what would become the most remembered and identifiable Soviet military machine of the Cold War and staff multitudes of inventories of Warsaw Pact nations. Its initial inception and ultimate global reach became a serious concern to NATO warplanners throughout the Cold War.
After some operational practice, the cockpit was redesigned to the more familiar Hind shape including two separate, stepped cockpits for better visibility and improved protection from ground-based fire. Additionally, the passenger-carrying quality was lessened as the attack role grew and munitions options took precedence over that of delivering troops to the field. The passenger cabin was later utilized for the carrying of "refill" AT-2 series "Swatter" anti-tank missiles. The changes - producing the well-known "Hind-D" line - helped the Hind grow its performance specifications while reducing its fragility in combat - particularly in the volatile low-level altitudes it was intended to operate in.
In taking the most widely-seen and accepted Hind helicopter form as our basis, the design is dominated by its stepped, two-person cockpit which seats the pilot in the rear and the gunner at the front. Each position is armored and covered over in heavy, framed bubble glass panels with the front-most gaining the benefit of windshield wiper blades to combat the elements. The glass panels were bulletproof against small arms fire. The pilot's cockpit door was set to open to starboard whilst the gunner's door opened to the portside. The engines are stacked above and behind the cockpit along the rather slim fuselage. The main rotor mast is low-mounted and powers a large, five-bladed main rotor system. The fuselage is slender and rounded along all facings. There is a oft-forgotten passenger cabin at the heart of the fuselage's layout, identified by its many vision ports. The empennage is set off by a high-mounted tail installation that delivers the shaft that powers the large, three-bladed tail rotor fitted to the portside of the aircraft. Horizontal planes are affixed to the rear sides of the tail section. The undercarriage is retractable and consists of a double-wheeled nose landing gear leg and a pair of single-wheeled main legs arranged in a three-point stance along the fuselage bottom. Armament is spread across three major underwing hardpoints. Each wing is mounted above and rear of the passenger areas and fit three hardpoint pylons, two inboard and one at the wing tip. Additional armament is fitted to the starboard fuselage side or, in some models, in an under-forward-fuselage gun mount. Additional optics and specialized equipment can be fitted to the forward fuselage as well.
Power for the Mi-24 is delivered through a pairing of 2 x Isotov TV3-117 series turbine engines, each delivering up to 2,200 horsepower. This provides the stout mount with a top speed of 208 miles per hour and an operational range nearing 280 miles. The maximum listed service ceiling for the aircraft is 14,750 feet, consistent with other helicopters in this class. Considering the weight of the Mi-24 at 18,740lbs (when empty), a fully-loaded 26,500lb Mi-24 is a non-too agile beast, taking away some of its combat effectiveness when used as a dedicated gunship.