The first of the Indian Air Force’s three iconic Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters known as Halo, is set to fly to Russia in about six months to undergo extensive overhaul and repairs that is expected to extend its life by another 10-15 years, ThePrint has learnt.
The move will enable the IAF to operate the Russian-made world’s largest heavy-lift helicopters together with the American Chinook choppers that are being currently inducted, giving it an unprecedented tactical lift capability.
Once the process is complete, India will become the first country to have a simultaneous inventory of both Mi-26s and Chinooks.
Speaking to ThePrint, senior government officials said the Ministry of Defence finally cleared the file for the overhauling of the three Mi-26 helicopters in August.
To be serviced in rotation, sources said, the choppers are now being readied so that they are in a condition to fly to Russia.
Servicing each Mi-26 helicopter is likely to take anywhere between a year and a year-and-a-half. The second chopper would fly to Russia for the overhaul once the first one is back. Subsequently, the third one would be sent, said an official who did not wish to be named.
It would take each chopper about three weeks to reach Russia.
The overhaul will extend the life of the choppers by 10-15 years. Upon return, the Mi-26 will be made operational to fly to remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, added the sources.
All three Halo choppers are currently non-operational. Two of them were grounded in September 2013 and August 2014, respectively, while the third chopper last flew in 2017.
The Halo history ::
The IAF had proposed overhauling the choppers almost three years ago and was awaiting clearance from the defence ministry. The delay had led to speculation in some quarters on whether the Mi-26 chopper fleet would be grounded altogether.
India was one of the earliest buyers of the Mi-26 helicopter when it was launched in the early 1980s by the erstwhile Soviet Union. Four Mi-26 helicopters were inducted into the IAF between 1986 and 1989, of which one crashed at the Jammu airport in 2010.
The move to overhaul the Mi-26s comes even as 15 US-made Chinook helicopters were bought by the IAF in 2015 — of which ten have been inducted — to replace the Russian choppers.
Powered by twin turboshaft engines, the Mi-26 helicopter weighs around 28,200 kg and its maximum take-off weight is 56,000 kg.
The Mi26 heavy-lift Halos have served a major role in lifting and transporting artillery guns, bridges, missiles and other equipment to far-flung areas of Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, as well as during evacuations.
The repairs process ::
Speaking to ThePrint, a senior IAF officer explained that overhauling of the chopper will include checking the integrity of the airframe and fatigue checks, particularly the load bearing areas, and involve replacing the major components that have completed their lives.
“Moreover, the engines would be checked, and parts like the turbine blades or the seals would be replaced with fresh ones. The avionics components would also be checked to see if any part needs to be replaced,” said the officer.
Owing to its small fleet, fewer pilots and technical personnel are trained for the Mi-26 choppers. As a result, preparing each chopper for a flight will take about six months, added the officer.
The Mi-26 choppers are part of the Chandigarh-based No. 126 Helicopter Flight (Featherweights) squadron.