Since its adoption into service with the Soviet Air Force during the early 1980s, the Cold War-era Mi-26 (NATO codename of "Halo") has been the largest and most powerful helicopter anywhere in the world. This heavy-lift series was developed to replace the aging Mil Mi-6 series. The Mi-26 was given an all-new, eight-bladed main rotor driven by a pair of Lotarev powerplants which helped the helicopter become a proven performer in both military and civilian roles - serving well in humanitarian relief efforts through its impactful supply-delivery capabilities.
The Mi-26 is powered by twin Lotarev D-136 series turboshafts developing approximately 11,400 shaft horsepower each and these are installed atop the cargo hold section of the fuselage abaft of the flight deck. Performance-wise, this massive machine can reach speeds up to 185 miles per hour and cruise at 160 miles per hour. Range is out to 1,200 miles with a service ceiling of 15,100 feet being possible. The 105-foot diameter eight-blade main rotor features advanced design and construction and is paired to a five-bladed tail rotor fitted along the vertical tail fin facing starboard. The helicopter's cockpit cabin is set well-forwards in the design, overlooking a short, rounded nose cone assembly and offering excellent vision out-of-the-cockpit. The cargo area is spacious and suitable for hauling up to 90 infantry with gear, 60 medical litters with staff or up 44,100 pounds of cargo. Her power is such that she can be used to carry heavy construction equipment to areas traditional rugged Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft cannot. Entry/exit is through sliding side doors as well as a powered loading ramp at rear which opens at the base of the tail section. The undercarriage is fixed and wheeled, consisting of a traditional tricycle arrangement. The standard operating crew for the Mi-26 is five made up of two pilots, a flight engineer/loadmaster, dedicated navigator, and a flight technician.
The Mi-26 has evolved from its original V-29 prototype to appear in a variety of dedicated and specialized forms. These include modernized models, MEDEVAC versions, a dedicated Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) platform, passenger/cargo types, and an airborne heavy-lift crane version. There has also been a dedicated fire-fighting platform.
Beyond the militarized versions of the Mi-26, there are also civilian market variants in service. Since its inception, it is reported that about 300 Mi-26 helicopters have been produced. First flight was on December 14th, 1977 with service introduction coming in 1983. Deliveries followed thereafter and full operational status was reached by 1986.
The Mi-26 was designed by engineers at the storied Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant in Moscow, Russia.
An Mi-26 Halo, with over 125 Russian personnel aboard, was downed by a Chechen surface-to-air missile system in August of 2002, killing all passengers and crew. More recently, Chinese Mi-26's have taken part in disaster relief operations in quake-effected regions of China.