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Promising development directions

29.01.2014 / Vzglyad / Olga Samofalova

The new information on development of Russian Advanced Commercial Helicopter (RACHEL) was revealed.

The technical design project and "flying lab" of RACHEL will be ready by 2015. Moscow Mil helicopter plant, the creator of Mi-8/17 series helicopters, is planning to obtain 3.3 billion roubles under the state contract to perform these works. RACHEL helicopter is the latest project of Mil plant that is intended to prove to the whole world the leading position of Russia in helicopter building sector in the future.

Moscow Mil helicopter plant (Russian Helicopters design bureau) till the end of November 2015 will develop preliminary and critical design of RACHEL, as well as produce and test so called “flying lab”, i.e. the prototype of the new rotorcraft assigned for flight tests, the representative of company Roman Kirillov said, as reported by ITAR-TASS.

The press-service of Russian Helicopters explained VZGLYAD newspaper that the company intents to participate in the tender of Ministry of Industry and Trade on the contract for continuation of scientific research in the framework of development and creation of RACHEL. 4 billion roubles will be allocated for these purposes in the frame of state contract in 2014-2015.

If Russian Helicopters win the tender, Moscow Mil helicopter plant (as a part of the company) will obtain 3.3 billion roubles out of that sum. These funds will be spent to the above-mentioned R&D works. The rest sum (about 0.7 billion) are to be assigned to the co-developers of RACHEL, including the developers of engine. In particular,it was told at Klimov plant that this year the plant goes on refinement of key components and systems of new generation engine assigned for RACHEL. In 2015 they are going to produce and test engine demonstrator and start certification procedures. The remaining amount of money was allocated to the companies acting as co-developers of the project.

Initially two parallel development works were planned under RACHEL program, i.e. Мi-Х1 helicopter by Mil Design Bureau and Ка-92 by Kamov Design Bureau. As a result of the contest the solutions and approaches proposed by Mil Design Bureau were found economically and technically optimal. However research works started by Kamov are not suspended and will be continued in the framework of scientific researches which results can be used in the long term, Russian Helicopters pointed out.

“These are two different schools of helicopter engineering with different concepts. Judging by the market situation, Mil helicopters held much stronger position on the foreign market than Kamovs ones, but it doesn`t mean at all that one engineering school is worse or better than the other. In this particular case when taking into consideration the limited financial resources and high development cost of RACHEL project, it stands to reason that the competition between the two companies was hold at the level of concepts, but not at the level of pilot projects or real development results. It is impractical to make parallel investments in almost rival works, so the choice was made. The feasibility study of Mil concepts brought us the hope that RACHEL project will be a successful one,”– the director of Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT) Igor Korotchenko told VZGLYAD newspaper.

This project was presented to the global market under the name of RACHEL (Russian Advanced Commercial Helicopter). It was demonstrated during the international airshow Farnborough-2012 for the first time. RACHEL is expected to replace partly the famous Russian helicopters series Mi-8/17 in the niche of medium helicopters.

It was reported earlier that certification tests of new helicopter will start in 2018–2020. One of the main priorities of RACHEL project is to minimize direct operational costs and provide the price acceptable for the customer.

The development of RACHEL is included into the federal special-purpose program “Russian civil aviation development”. According to this program RACHEL should provide the flight range of 1500 km and be suitable for VIP transportation. At the first development stage of the program cruising speed of helicopter will be equal to 300–350 km/h, at the second stage it will reach about 450 km/h. The development of helicopter with 10-12 ton weight is aimed to meet the demands in aviation market. In passenger configuration the cabin capacity will be up to 21–24 passengers. The special-purposes configurations of helicopter are also under consideration: search&rescue, patrolling and medevac. The helicopter is meant for replacement of Mi-8/17 helicopters.

“We have completely lost the market segment of passenger airplanes, and just now are struggling to occupy the niche in medium-range air transportation, as well as developing MC-21 plane to compete with Boeing and Airbus, however in helicopter sphere we are taking the leading positions on the market. The only exclusion is luxury helicopters for VIP transportation, the segment where the western companies run the show. But as for traditional configurations of helicopters – military transport helicopters, heavy helicopters, combat helicopters, Kamov shipborne helicopters – our positions are very strong on the global market”, - Korotchenko said. .

“In the segment of medium helicopters Mi-8 and Mi-17 are the most in demand in the world. These helicopters are flying all over the globe, even NATO troops prefer to fly by Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters in Afghanistan, purchasing them for the Armed Forces of Afghanistan using Pentagon funds”, - Korotchenko recounts.

“But these helicopters are just the groundwork laid In the Soviet period and now we shall concentrate on the new Russian developments on the base of existing helicopter models and experience”, - the expert said.

“The creation of high-velocity helicopter today is one of the mainstreams of global helicopter building sector. Definitely, we should not stand apart”, he added. All leading helicopter building corporations are working on this project now, including Airbus Helicopter and Sikorsky Aircraft in particular, and Russian Helicopters is not an exception either.

“It’s too hard to say who is the leader in this race. However the main design centers capable to produce any concrete scientific technical results in the nearest future are located in Western Europe, the USA and Russia. But it is a sure thing that at present only scientific research works are going on. The global market is based on helicopters with traditional velocities and Russia achieved splendid results in a number of market positions”, – Igor Korotchenko said.

In his opinion the current Mi-8/17 helicopter in-use will remain the most popular rotorcraft on the world market at least for 30-40 years. “For a quite number of countries this type of helicopter is the single option, especially for the countries in Latin America, Africa, Middle East and South-East Asia with adverse climatic and environmental conditions. The helicopters of this class are not available in the West as a given fact. Their main features are design simplicity coupled with high reliability. Certainly, this helicopter platform will be upgraded and improved but never be scrapped”, VZGLYAD newspaper interlocutor said.

However we should strain efforts to establish scientific and technical basis for the future, so as not to give up leading positions and be among the dominant companies, when the actual tests of these helicopters are launched in the turn of the twenties, the expert thinks.

“The sum allocated for the project is based on the financing capabilities of the state. It looks like much more funds would have been allocated but they allocated as much as they could afford. To my mind, all necessary works must be optimized so as to be completed within the limits of allocated sums. In this particular case the investment is made to R&D works, which will be the basis for development of serial products”, - Korotchenko summarizes the interview.

Russian Helicopters produced 303 helicopters for Russian and foreign customers in 2013 (compared to 290 in 2012). The company is expecting to obtain the profit of more than 140 billion roubles (compared to 125.7 billion roubles in 2012). The confirmed order book of Russian helicopters as on December 11, 2013 made up 772 helicopters for the sum over 370 billion roubles. According to the signed contracts the provided workload of the company enterprises is 100% in 2014, 73% in 2015 and 25% in 2016.  

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