This photo originally appeared in the September 1994 issue of Rotor & Wing International.
This article was originally published in the September 1994 issue of R&WI and has been edited to comply with current grammar and style guidelines. Look for our special 50th Anniversary edition of the May/June 2017 magazine, in which we'll celebrate the past 50 years — and look ahead to the next 50 years —of rotorcraft innovations.
Most helicopter pilots would give their eyeteeth to fly Mil’s Mi-28 attack helicopter. Since dual control versions of the Mi-28 don’t exist, and the Russians aren’t that trusting, I got the next best thing: a ride in the front seat.
And what a ride it was.
At the time, only four prototype Mi-28s existed and one of these was covered in canvas at the Mil Bureau’s test center. All four survived the development process, despite problems.
It was blustery (20-25 kts of wind) with rain showers in Moscow — a trying day for any helicopter in the hover and low-speed environment. But I was in good hands, with Mil’s Demchuk Orest as the pilot. Demchuk’s command of English matched my five words of Russian, so we talked through an interpreter.
A staff engineer who was the test navigator/weapons operator (and spoke quite good English) showed me the front seat and explained the safety equipment and switches. In normal Russian fashion, the Mi-28 had the full set of avionics, countermeasures and weapons stations fitted along with flight-test instrumentation.
Filled with test equipment
Since Mil was making some aerodynamic tests, our aircraft was fitted with three angle-of-attack and sideslip probes in addition to the normal dual pitot tubes and rotor-blade-mounted low airspeed sensor A pannier size of the normal antitank missile pod carried flight test recoding equipment on the left inner weapons station Bother wing tips had a flare/chaff dispensers, and the top of the cowlings were fitted with the infrared (IR) jammers. The two 2,200-shp (1,640-kW) TV3-117 engines were equipped with the final-production IR suppressor.
Like most attack helicopters, the Mi-28 wouldn’t win a beauty contest. However, there’s a reason for every bump and bulge, and the aircraft has a look of intent — not something one would like to see appear over a ridge at night.
The aircraft we flew was not just a brief proof-of-concept prototype; it had accumulated about 340 hours. We carried full fuel. Takeoff weight was about 23,000 pounds out of a total weight allowed of 26,500 pounds. Heavy iron!
A peak into the pilot’s aft cockpit reveals careful design work. There are few engine and systems gauges. Only the most important ones are given dedicated displays; the rest are put onto the small display just left of the caution panel.
(The Mi-28 I flew in, by the way, was not the fully mission-capable machine. In the cockpit, for example, the second attitude indicator was in place of some mission equipment that was probably classified. Note that the pilot has a headup display. The rest of the cockpit is comparable to Western helicopters having an early 1980s design.)
Harnesses and a chute
Prior to the flight, I was fitted for a seat harness and given instruction on the safety equipment. The buckles and harness were similar to those in Eastern aircraft. I was strapped into the parachute, which is in the seat back. The first safety point covered was the pin for the escape system located on the center-mounted ejection seat-style handle. I was not to touch the pin unless we crashed.
The seat is adjustable up and down only. The flight test instrumentation control panel just above my left knee definitely restricted legroom. However, since the panel wouldn’t be in the operational machine, and my right leg was OK, I assume legroom in the Mi-28 would be no problem. Still, this is not an overly roomy cockpit.
Starting from the top left of the instrument panel, the compass, airspeed indicator and barometric altimeter are nearly the same as in other helicopters. The map-display unit (MDU) was partly hidden behind the direct-vision (rather than electronic) sight. The MDY would have been useful, if a map had been put in for our flight.
Just above the MDU is the TV sight. Like the direct-vision sight, it is controlled by large handgrip controls immediately in front of the weapon systems operator (WSO). These included pan-and-tilt controls and a small switch for TV camera focusing. A two-position switch on the left-hand grip mechanically changes the direct-vision sight’s magnification.
Further down the left-hand console are switches for the intercom and radio volumes, and one to cage the sighting system during lots of maneuvering.
The navigation system control head is at the top of the left-side console — well protected from boots and hands by a wire guard. It looks like the control head would be easier to read at night than during the day, but when the doors were closed, the numbers on the LED display showed up nicely. I had no idea how the control head worked, let alone how to operate it.
The business end of the Mi-28 is the sighting system, which I tried out during preflight. The system’s controls are on a large pylon that dominates the WSO’s position. The rugged pylon appears to owe more of its parentage to battleship or tank design than it does to aviation.
The switches and controls slew both the direct-view optics (DVO) and the low-light TV camera, and their operation is intuitive. Switching between fields of view on the DVO is straightforward and accompanied by a solid sound somewhere in the bowels of the machine. The DVO has a finely scribed line to show the sight’s relative azimuth to the aircraft to apprise the WSO of aircraft heading.
Russian optics appear to be good; the quality of the scene was quite remarkable however, I wish I had more time to use the TV. I couldn’t get it focused, and it drifted from the DVO picture slightly when not being slewed. Of course, this was a developmental airframe, and the TV system wasn’t Mil’s top priority.
With the briefing concluded, the massive door on this armor-plated helicopter shut with a satisfying “clunk.” Looking around, I found the outside view to the top, front and sides was surprisingly good. I had to remind myself that this is heavily armored glass. The side windows have large antireflection screens nicely aligned with the eye and side of fuselage. A WSO would have no problem seeing what needs to be seen.
The pilot’s field of view appears to be even better, given that he sits higher and has more glass area. The front glass is made (and tested) to withstand 23-mm rounds, while the side windows and cockpit armor are made to handle .50-caliber bullets.
Lighting the fires
Demchuk started the first engine and the rotor began to spin up. There was no padding from side to side, and we were up at flight rpm and chocks away within five minutes of engine start.
The single concrete taxiway was rough and bumpy but the ride was reasonably smooth. Engine and transmission noise barely crept through, and the vibration level remained low.
Once onto a nearby grass airfield, we lifted into a hover. Pitch and roll attitude changed only slightly. (I had no attitude indicator, so everything I describe is estimated). We were probably about 3 deg more nose up than on the ground and about 2 deg right wing down. We quickly hover-taxied out to the middle of the grass field, and the demonstration began.
Remember that winds were 20-25 kts and quite turbulent. Much of what I could report comes from qualitatively assessing things like attitude and rate reversals, changes in rotor and electrical generator noise, predictability of flight path, and other cues.
The flight began routinely — some hover turns, quick stops, moderate lateral repositioning. Even in the wind, Demchuk had no problem keeping the ride quite smooth.
I’m not sure if it was the turbulence or the automatic flight control system (AFCS) but periodically, it felt as if control was not quite as precise and Demchuk would have liked. I noticed several slight roll reversals.
Demchuk was just warming up. More spirited maneuvering began with a charge down the airfield and pull up to a high hover followed by some sporting yaw maneuvers. I’ve been in some rapid yaws under control — and a few that weren’t so controlled — but I’ve never been subject to anything like this, especially in such wind.
Getting thrown forward in your straps as the yaw rate pushes you out of the seat proved exciting. I later asked about yaw rater and was told with a conspiratorial wink that it never exceeded the 60 deg per second rate. My estimate is slightly higher, but I don’t want to get Demchuk into trouble.
Later, in another turn, we yawed right at such a rate that I was literally thrown sideways and bumped my helmet against the canopy frame. Then suddenly we yawed left just as rapidly — a useful capability in combat. Needless to say, no one could use the sight under these conditions. I gave up trying.
Away we went for forward flight. I was delighted to see Demchuk flying so positively and probably enjoying it too. Wish it had been me.
Vibration levels remained low, and it is difficult to determine what was induced by turbulence and what was caused by the airframe. The speed mounted steadily toward 135 kts and stayed there nicely. Neither noise nor vibration changed, but turbulence made using the sigh impossible, again.
A full card
We did nearly everything except loops and rolls, including low-level flight along a small river, contour flying at 135 kts at about 10-15-foot altitudes, rapid rolling to obscene bank angles and 2.3-G tight turns with much blade popping.
Vibrations in the turns ere no worse than level flight, and there was clearly bags of power — plenty of reserves for this sort of flight.
Pull-ups and wingovers were performed to at least 45 deg nose-up and nose-down pitch. Even with a pull-up into wind and recovery at low-altitude downwind, the ride was comfortable. (Mind you, I was watching the airspeed indicator throughout, and Demchuk was quite positive about starting the yawing and rolling with at least 54 kts. The wingover maneuver from into wind to downwind has caused several accidents in other helicopters, so I followed events with more than average interests.)
At one point we charged down a river filled with barges. Demchuk deliberately displayed the flag to the barge crewmen before slipping between two large floodgate towers. (Low-flight rules in Russia are obviously different.) We returned to hover alongside the barge. The transition was performed downwind with a quartering tailwind — pretty gusty in any machine — and we didn’t pussyfoot into the hover. There were no low-frequency vibrations and Demchuk appeared to easily keep yaw under immaculate control. It was very impressive.
All to soon, we headed back to the airfield — I still had had no chance to try the sights. I attempted to get to Demchuk to hold the aircraft out for a few moments, but our mutual communication ability wasn’t up to it. We, therefore, taxied in.
It was difficult to suppress a very broad grin. My overall impression is of a machine that is solidly constructed, with power to spare, and excellent maneuvering capability — no doubt a formidable attack helicopter.
The Mil people are undoubtedly scouting around to find different avionics and systems for this capable platform. I don’t think another helicopter exists that could touch the Mi-28 in terms of sheer ruggedness.