Kazan Helicopter manufacturing plant is on a fast paced modernisation programme
Dilip Kumar Mekala
Kazan, Russia: It is most certainly a one stop shop for everything that is even remotely connected to the helicopter manufacturing: From nuts and bolt to the big flying machine. But that is not the first thing that strikes anybody inside the Kazan Helicopter manufacturing plant. It’s the fast paced modernisation that the plant is seriously taking forward. “The aim is to be second to none,” an official inside the Kazan helicopters modestly said. And that is perhaps what stands out for any curious outsider taking a peek into this voluminous space.
The ambitious modernisation programme started throughout all the Russian Helicopters Holding in 2008. Kazan Helicopters, a part of the Russian Helicopters Holding also started its modernisation in the same year. The programme that includes the purchase of new equipment, upgradation of machine tooling shop, stamping and painting shop, blade production of composite materials and storage facilities, and so on, is being pursued at a fast pace. Modernisation is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.
In a short interaction with the visiting journalists, plant’s General Director, Vadim Ligay spoke primarily about the robust modernisation programme that he is currently heading. Over the last four years, sales of the helicopters produced by the Kazan plant increased 2.7 times. The number of helicopters produced in 2011 is 16 per cent more than that in 2010. “All thanks to the modernisation process,” he said. That is not all. Expecting to be consistent with its growth, the plant this year is hopes to produce at least 15 per cent more helicopters than 2011. “We expect to continue the growth and the modernisation of our production process,” Ligay said.
It is not just some extravagant numbers that underline the fascinating facts; the experience inside the plant speaks for the same. One example is the machine and process production area of the Kazan helicopter where all the structural components of the helicopter are made. Almost the entire work space in this area is filled with brand new and the most advanced toning and milling machines to take care of the needs of the helicopter parts production. Design engineers along with the technical teams are putting an eight-hour effort a day giving attention to every detail.
Apart from the helicopter production, overhaul, spare parts production, engineering support and helicopter modification, the Kazan factory also concentrates on the aviation personnel training, ground support equipment and also the design and development aspect of the helicopter.
Simulating the Mi-8
Aviation personnel training, is another important activity in the Kazan factory. Inside the aviation centre of the plant, is its brand new Mi-8 simulator. While there are some other simulators in the plant, Mi-8 simulator, which was delivered by Transas Company recently, is the most advanced. Visualisation scenes and projection system are developed by Transas. “Apart from the most obvious reasons like safety and low-cost pilot training methods, the accuracy with which any situation is simulated is commendable,” a pilot demonstrating the simulator said.
Imitator of the visualisation system of this Mi-8 simulator includes projection system of eight channels (projectors) that provide the image of 1,400×1,500 pixel per channel in 16 million colours. The frame frequency is at least 30 per second. Scenes are projected on a spherical screen with vertical look-up angle of 90 degrees and horizontal one of 180 degrees, virtually giving it a view that resembles the one from the glass cockpit of the Mi-8 helicopter.
One has to give some credit for such simulator for simulating live environments accurately. Especially while sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, one can feel the reactions of the helicopter to the wind, besides observing the brightness and size of lights that change depending on the distance and visibility. The image details on the projector are as good as a real one. The Plant is also planning to put a simulator for Ansat helicopter, which will be as advanced as the Mi-8 simulator.
Final Assembly Line
Kazan Helicopters started production in 1951, with the debut of Mi-1 which incidentally was the first serial production of helicopters in the Soviet Union. First export (of the Mi-4) happened in 1956. Later came the advanced helicopters like Mi-8/17 with various versions. Till date, 12,000 units of the Mi-8/17 multi-mission helicopters have been produced out of which 4,500 have been exported worldwide in more than 80 countries making it the most produced helicopter design in the world. At the present day, the final assembly line of the Kazan Helicopter factory is working on numerous Mi-8/17 helicopters lined up to meet the deadlines of the customers worldwide. The production line of the factory, especially for the Mi-17 is booked till 2014. Apart from the Mi-17 and its variations, different versions of Ansat, Mi-38 are also manufactured in the Kazan Helicopter factory.
And there are of course modernisation plans for the final assembly line. There are two main ways in which the company is planning to achieve this — one is the use of composite materials, which would reduce the number of assembling operations and second is to shift to automated operations. “When we achieve the desired level of automation, the work at the final assembly line will be reduced to the hand work which cannot be avoided,” Ligay said. And that can, in fact, help the factory to produce more helicopters in less time.
The demand for the Mi-17 and its various versions are quite evident from the scene inside the final assembly line. Most of the units are the different versions of the Mi-17 helicopter. “Mi-17 and its modifications are and will remain the plant’s main products”, Ligay said. The production line of the Kazan Helicopters comprises of three main types of the Mi-17 family: Mi-17-1V which is a baseline helicopter, Mi-172 which is used in many countries for passenger transportation and the modernised version Mi-17 V5.
Bridging the gap between 36-passenger Mi-17 and 82-passenger Mi-26 in the series production, Kazan Helicopters is building a new model Mi-38 which is in the final assembly stage. It has a passenger carrying capacity of 40. The company has built two test helicopters of the new medium Mi-38, and another two are being assembled. The second helicopter is now undergoing plant and certification tests with Pratt and Whitney engines. This summer, the company is planning to begin tests of Mi-38 with Russian TV7-117V engines. Vadim Ligay said, “Mi-38 which will be of definite interest for the market, will be certified in 2015, and it will be serially produced in Kazan.”
The Air Show
The flight demonstration of the Mi-17 V5 and Ansat were carried out at the Kazan Helicopter’s runway. The helicopters kept manoeuvring in the skies and showed off their highly skilled moves to the spectators. The capabilities like the airdrop, low altitude performance of the Mi-17 particularly got thumbs up from the bunch of spectators who were busy trying to click as many snaps as possible.
Boasting off the performance abilities of the Mi-17 V5 after the demonstration, the pilot said, “This new and modernised version can perform its full-fledged combat operations even at altitudes like 6,000 metres.” Not only that, the helicopter performs in the most difficult terrains. “They also require very little maintenance”, he added.
Also on the display at the runway, was the Mi-17 V5 in the Indian Air Force colours. The basic structure which is on display at the runway is going to undergo some modifications according to the specifications of the IAF before it finally joins the fleet as a part of the ongoing programme.
MI-17 V5 is one of the latest modifications of the most popular Russian helicopter Mi-8/17. Mi-17 V5 is a medium multi-purpose helicopter and it can be modified for different purposes according to the customer’s needs.
In military use, it is used to support ground forces, airdrop troopers and evacuate them, as well as for combat operations. To ease the airdrop, the helicopter has enlarged left door and additional right door. Its ramp helps in airdropping, loading and unloading large size cargo. It can transport up to 36 troopers, cargo up to 4,000 kg inside fuselage or an external sling. It has advanced defence system including ejection of thermal decoy missile. The cabin is capable of carrying various night-vision equipment.
In search and rescue version, it is equipped with the barrow which can carry cargo up to 300 kg and can lift two persons requiring medical health up to 60 metres high. It has intensive searchlight SX-16. It can be equipped with integral avionics complexes including electronic indication of flight parameters, system measuring helicopters position, radio communication and navigation, as well as flight management speaker. Maximum horizontal flight speed is 250 km per hour and 270 km per hour during combat manoeuvres. Flight distance with additional fuel tanks reaches 1,500 km.
Ansat, a light multi-purpose helicopter, is a single rotor helicopter with an anti-torque rotor. Being a multi-purpose helicopter, with the help of quick-detachable equipment it can be promptly reconfigured for carrying out a wide range of tasks like loads transportation, passenger transportation, search and rescue operations, patrolling, fire-fighting and medical evacuation.
It is also available in different versions like the passenger version, VIP transport, ambulance and training helicopter. It has a maximum take-off weight of 3,600 kg and maximum payload weight of 1,110kg.
The company previously developed a version of the Ansat featuring a fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system. “This innovative development threw up an unexpected obstacle, as no FBW civilian helicopter had been certificated before and no standard requirements existed,” Ligay said. The decade-old fly-by-wire system of the Ansat has faced a lot of problems in getting proper certifications. The new version of the Ansat is now being developed with the hydro mechanical flight control system. “To avoid being dependent on certification of the FBW Ansat we decided to offer the global market a helicopter with a traditional hydro-mechanical flight control system. We hope to obtain certification for this version of the helicopter in the second half of 2012,” said Ligay.
To date Kazan Helicopters has produced two prototypes of the new Ansat for aerial and ground-based testing. The testing programme has been going on since 2011, and has produced positive results. Kazan Helicopters has filed an application with the Interstate Aviation Committee’s Air Registry for additional type-certification to install the hydro-mechanical flight control system. This will make possible further work on gaining certification for passenger flights.
Powered by the Pratt and Whitney PW207k engine, it still has to crack into the global market. Russian Helicopters is currently marketing this civilian version of the helicopter with the new flight-control system. Due to the problems in the certification, the sales of this helicopter are still low; the Russian defence ministry is the only customer so far. Russian Helicopters plans to sell the new Ansat in its traditional markets across the CIS, South-East Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Russia’s defence ministry purchased the Ansat-U training helicopter for its flight training schools. The latest batch was delivered to the Air Force Training Centre in Syzran in 2011. Work is continuing in Kazan on building numerous versions of the Ansat helicopter, including modernisation of the basic model with significant upgrades to its aeronautical, economy and usage characteristics.
General director, Kazan Manufacturing Plant, Vadim Ligay focuses upon the IAF contract
“The contract with the Indian party is very important for us,” General Director of the Kazan Helcipter plant Vadim Ligay said while speaking about the contract with the Indian Air Force. On 17 February 2012, defence minister Antony has formally inducted the Mi-17 V5 helicopters into the service. Twenty one out of the 80 helicopters were delivered according to the deal that happened in 2008. “Our timetable is very tight and we should be able to finish it in the middle of 2014,” Ligay said.
“Within the framework of this contract, we produced a new helicopter which is the modernised version of our helicopter. And we are very happy that together with the Moscow helicopter plant we met all the requirements of the Indian party,” he added. India is likely to go for more Mi-17 helicopters of different versions. The home ministry is also keen on the Mi-17 V5 helicopters for the anti-Naxal operations. Aware of all these developments, Ligay has stated that the long term cooperation with the Indian customers will continue and they expect to deliver different versions of the helicopters.
India is one of the biggest markets for the Russian Helicopters outside their domestic share. And the requirement is most certainly growing. High performance characteristics, versatility and pricing efficiency made the helicopter one of the most popular among the Indian security agencies. While such high demand is arising from the Indian side, when asked about the plans or proposals for any joint ventures, Ligay has said, “There is one offset programme in India and within that we are planning to open a service centre and production of some small units.” While there are no plans to open up a full scale MRO facility in the near future, there might be such possibility in the long term.
Another topic of discussion was the light multi-purpose helicopter Ansat which is in production at the Kazan plant and also at the Moscow plant of the Russian Helicopters. While there are no sales for this helicopter outside Russia, it is hoping to enter the South African and Asian markets. “Russian Helicopters is now focusing on the marketing of Ansat outside Russia. Not only marketing, they are looking forward for the production of Ansat soon. Currently, the only customer for this helicopter is Russia’s defence ministry who ordered the training variant of this helicopter, Ansat-U.
Ansat is stuck with various hurdles regarding the certification of the age-old fly-by-wire system. The Company is now planning to replace its fly-by-wire system with its new hydro mechanical flight control system to avoid complications in the certification. There are two prototypes of the Ansat with the hydro mechanical flight control system. While one is made for the ground testing, another one has recently completed its first demonstration flight with the hydro mechanical flight control system. “We are expecting to get all the possible certifications for the new version of Ansat in the second half of 2012,” Ligay said.
Speaking about the series production of the Mi-38 helicopter, one of which is at the final assembly line of the Kazan plant and two at the Moscow plant, he said, “It is unfortunate that there are some delays in its production, but they are caused by the issues related to the engine certification. We are following our time table, the serial production will begin in time”, he added. Final certification is expected by 2015.
“Wider range of products will help to reduce potential risks on separate products,” Ligay said. And that is perhaps why there was enormous attention being given to the Ansat light weight helicopters and the Mi-38 serial production even though Mi-17 and its modifications are still the main products “to reduce the risk of production of the family of Mi-17 helicopters”.
In 2011, of all the contracts fulfilled by the company, 71 per cent are exports. “Strategic goals of Russian Helicopters are aimed at increasing its share in the world market. Kazan Helicopters is one of the leading companies of the holding and thus we have an important role to play,” he said.