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Here's the story of one of the most popular attack helicopters in the world: from early flight tests to serving Russia during the Crimean crisis
A lethal attack helicopter able to operate in any weather condition: the engineers of the Russian Experimental Design Bureau (OKB) endowed the Mil Mi-28N Havoc helicopter with these two basic qualities.
Between lacks of funds that stopped the project and constant updating, it was only in 2006 that the helicopter was chosen by the Russian army. However, it only took a few months for it to become one of the most appreciated military models in the world, entering social imaginaries also through the two best selling videogames Battlefield 3 and 4.
THE STORY OF THE MIL MI-28N
The Mil Mi-28N was first developed in 1972. Its NATO reporting name tells a lot about its features and how it worried Western countries: the term havoc was originally chosen in the Eastern Bloc and is still used as a reporting name.
The concept of the Mil Mi-28N helicopter is based on the Mil Mi-24, the only existing example of attack helicopter with transport capacity. The new project consists in reducing the transport capacity from 8 to 3 men in order to improve the helicopter performances, such as the maximum speed.
Originally, the engineers had considered several configurations, including a twin-diagonal rotor helicopter, in which the rotors were matched to the engines overboarding the wings. If they had added a thrust propeller on the tail, they would have turned the aircraft into a gyrodyne. In 1977, however, they opted for a more classic single-rotor project. The definitive configuration was approved in 1981: the next year, the prototype took off for the first time.
THE MIL MI-28N JOINS THE RUSSIAN ARMY
The Soviet Air Forces chose the Kamov Ka-50, considered more advanced than the Mil Mi-28N helicopter. The project remained suspended until 1995, a year that marked the beginning of a successful career for the Mil Mi-28N, which flew for the first time in 1996. The helicopter immediately made a great success thanks to several important developments. The most important one was the introduction of a radar placed on a radome on top of the main rotor; this configuration is the one that mostly resembles the Mil Mi-28Nís cousin, the US AH-64D Lonbow Apache helicopter. The new model can also count on improved vision and fire-control systems placed under the front part of the helicopter, including video and FLIR cameras.
In 2003, the Russian Air Forces chose the Mil Mi-28N as its standard attack helicopter.
The Havoc, which has a 30-mm cannon in its front part, as well as several bomb loads that can be installed on the lateral fins, entered service in 2006, supporting the Ka-50 and 52 helicopters.
The version used by the Russian Army has two heavily armoured cockpits and next generation avionics. The helicopter has two Klimov TV-3-117VM turboshafts that enable it to reach a maximum speed of 160 knots, with an extremely reduced acoustic impact provided by the x-shaped tail rotor (55 degrees).
THE MIL MI-28N DURING THE UKRAINE CRISIS
The Mil Mi-28N is currently one of the main protagonists of the war between Russia and Ukraine over control of Crimea. Indeed, the Russian government flexed its muscles in front of NATO, drawing up its 15th Army Aviation Brigade along the border between Estonia and Latvia to perform combat training. The Brigade is made by three squadrons of Havoc, Ka-52, Alligator, Mi-8MTV and Mi-26T helicopters.