The Kamov Ka-31 "Helix" series of medium-lift navalized helicopters was born out of a Soviet Navy need for an interim Airborne Early Warning platform while resources went to the proposed dedicated Antonov An-71 "Madcap". The An-71 would have operated directly from the flight decks of the limited Soviet carrier force but was cancelled when interest fell to the Yakovlev Yak-44 solution. The Yak-44 itself would have been another fixed-wing design launching from Soviet carriers but the fall of the Soviet Empire led to a cancellation in its development. Three An-71 prototypes were completed while only a full-scale mockup of the Yak-44 ever saw the light of day. This upheaval then paved the way for a modified form of the trusted-and-true Kamov Ka-27 "Helix" shipborne, twin-rotor, anti-submarine helicopter series known as the "Ka-29". Design work began in 1980.
The Ka-29 airframe was fitted with the same radar system which would have been fielded in the abandoned An-71 design. This new Helix prototype was then designated as the Ka-29RLD. The fuselage was widened but still retained the very identifiably stout Helix family form including its contra-rotating, stacked main rotor assemblies. The four-point undercarriage was retractable when the radar was utilized in an effort to keep the assemblies from interfering with the system (four single-wheeled main landing gear legs, two forward, two aft). The E-801E "Oko" radar system was fitted under the fuselage and laid flat against it when in transport, lowered only when actively used, which, in turn, prompted the landing gear to be raised. The Oko system could track targets as small as a conventional fighter up to 150 kilometers away in day or night. GPS and a semi-digital cockpit were made standard and the dual engine arrangement was improved to the Klimov-brand TV3-117VMAR powerplant series. Sensors and communications were also all bettered in the resulting end product. The system then underwent a period of lengthy trials and evaluation until the helicopter was cleared for flying. First flight was recorded in 1987 and the type was officially recognized by the West in 1988 when a pair were seen operating on the deck of the Tbilsi.
The Ka-31 languished during the lean years resulting from the Soviet fall. However, as the situation began to stabilized somewhat in the 1990s, serial production of the Ka-31 was underway - albeit in limited quantities. It was not until 1995 that the Ka-31 was officially entered into the now-Russian Navy inventory. As time wore on, the Ka-31 went on to see upgrades to its various systems to keep it a viable platform of the modern battlefield. Approximately 35 to 40 of the type have since been built to date.
The Ka-31 is crewed by three standard operating personnel including a pilot and co-pilot as well as up to three mission specialists. The cockpit is naturally set at the front of the fuselage and dotted with an array of windscreens for excellent vision out of the cockpit. Entry and exit for the pilots is accomplished by way of hinged automobile-style doors to the forward fuselage sides. The crew cabin area is set just aft of the cockpit. The aircraft is powered by a pair of Klimov (Isotov) TV3-117VMAR turboshaft engines, each delivering 1,217 horsepower to two, 3-bladed main rotor blades. The engines are set along the fuselage roof in a side-by-side arrangement. The use of contra-rotating blades means that the Ka-31 does not rely on a conventional tail rotor to counter the inherent torque of a spinning main rotor blade system. The tail is, instead, made up of a pair of large-area vertical tail fins consistent with previous Kamov helicopter offerings to date. A top speed of 166 miles per hour is reported as is a cruise speed of approximately 126 miles per hour. Range is 324 nautical miles with a service ceiling just under 11,500 feet. As a navy-minded mount, the Ka-31 skin and critical parts are designed to resist corrosion consistent with operations over salty seas.
The Ka-31 has seen only limited foreign export sales, this to the Indian Navy as well as to the Chinese Navy. India operates at least one aircraft carrier to date while China is in the process of trialing one (ex-Soviet) and constructing several more as of this writing. The Chinese Navy is believed to have received their first Ka-31s in November of 2010. The Ka-31 remains in operation service for all its listed users as of this writing.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Special-Mission: Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
Specially-equipped platform providing over-battlefield Command and Control (C2) capability for allied aerial elements.
✓Special-Mission: Electronic Warfare (EW)
Equipped to actively deny adversaries the ElectroMagnetic (EM) spectrum and protect said spectrum for allied forces.
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
41.0 ft (12.50 m)
47.6 ft (14.50 m)
18.4 ft (5.60 m)
12,125 lb (5,500 kg)
26,896 lb (12,200 kg)
+14,771 lb (+6,700 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Kamov Ka-31 (Helix) production variant)
2 x Klimov (Isotov) TV3-117VMAR turboshaft engines developing 1,217 shaft horsepower each and driving 2 x three-bladed main rotors.
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