by Vijay Mohan

Even as the Indian Air Force prepares to induct the US-made Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, it has set in motion the process for life extension of the ageing Soviet-origin Mi-26 that has been forming its heavy-lift component since 1985.

The IAF has three Mi-26, the world’s largest helicopter, based at Chandigarh with 126 Helicopter Flight. The Total Technical Life (TTL) of two of these machines expired in September 2013 and August 2014 and these have since been non-operational.

The IAF has contracted for 15 CH-47 Chinooks, which are expected to start arriving in 2019. The IAF at present is constrained to rely on a single heavy-lift helicopter to carry out strategic tasks. At 20 tonnes, the payload capability of the Mi-26 is almost double that of the Chinook.

Two Mi-26s were initially procured in 1986 with two more in 1989. One was lost in a freak accident in 1998, when it toppled over due to a gust of wind. This was replaced by a new helicopter in October 2002. A second Mi-26 was lost in a crash during take-off from Jammu in 2010.

Sources say the IAF has approached the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant in Russia, seeking a proposal for ferrying all three helicopters to Russia for overhaul as well as undertaking a special life extension program.

The IAF is looking at extending the TTL of the helicopters by 100 flying hours each, an officer said. As of December 2017, the two older machines had put in a total of about 2,400 flying hours each, which comes to an average of about 85 per annum till the time they were operational.

The third helicopter, which has a TTL of 8,000 hours as stipulated by the manufacturer, has logged about 1,450 till December 2017, averaging 96 hours annually. It had been given special life extension for two years during an overhaul and inspection done earlier, sources said.

Only One Operational

  • The IAF currently has only one operational heavy-lift Mi-26 to carry out its strategic tasks. The world’s largest helicopter can carry 20 tonne payload
  • The IAF has approached a Russian plant to ferry the three copters in its fleet for undertaking a special life extension programm
  • US-made CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter will replace the ageing Mi-26. The first of 15 are likely to start arriving in 2019