First Russian Air Force Mi-38T assembled
The Mi-38T is a military variant of the civil Mi-38-2 designed and developed by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant. Its roots date back to July 30, 1981, when the Mil design bureau was awarded a contract by the Soviet Union Ministry of Defense to develop a new multipurpose medium-sized helicopter as a replacement for the fleet of Mi-8T and Mi-8MT helicopters in service of the Soviet Armed Forces.
Those replacement plans came to an end when the program lost public funding following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. Nevertheless, the final design of the Mi-38 was approved in 1993, originally with the TVA-3000 turboshaft engine as a more efficient and economic replacement for the TV7-117 engine that had been selected for the helicopter in the 1980s.
As a second blow to the project, the TVA-3000 program also lost its state financial support, forcing the Russian helicopter industry to seek help from Euromil, a consortium formed by Mil and Eurocopter in 1994. This resulted in the Westernization of the Mi-38, notably with the selection of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127 engines for the helicopter. Westernization of the Mi-38 stopped in 2002, a year before transfer of project to the Kazan factory, following Russia’s decision to stop the sharing of military information with foreign companies. State funding was allocated to the project once again, permitting Kazan Helicopters to complete the first prototype, which flew for first time on Dec. 22, 2003.
Because the first Mi-38 prototypes were still equipped with PW127TS engines, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) did not see a future for the aircraft in the Russian Armed Forces. Subsequently, in 2011, the MoD ordered 140 Mi-8MTV-5-1 and 132 Mi-8AMTSh helicopters as replacements for a majority of its ageing Mi-8T/MTs.
In 2012, the Kazan Helicopters completed the first pre-production Mi-38 with TV7-117V engines, which was called the Mi-38-2. The ground trials of the prototype were started in 2012, and continued at Mil plants in Moscow in 2013. From the beginning, the aircraft drew the attention of Russian MoD officials. Following the construction of two more Mi-38-2s in 2013 and 2014, the Russian MoD started negotiations with Russian Helicopters to procure the helicopter for use by the Russian Armed Forces, resulting in an agreement for the construction of two military variant Mi-38Ts in July 2017.
According to Russian Helicopters, the Mi-38T features a fuel system with explosion protection, special communications equipment, and additional fuel tanks to increase flight range. The aircraft will have a variety of uses, from combat search-and-rescue, to VIP carriage, and troop transport in the Russian Air Force and Navy. The company also expects to build special missions variants of the Mi-38T, including an “Arctic” version of the helicopter.
Kazan Helicopters CEO Vadim Ligay told the author in August that the Mi-38T will not take the place of Mi-8MTV-5-1 and Mi-8AMTSh in Russian Armed Forces in the 2020s; instead, it will be used especially by Russian Army Aviation units as a complementary helicopter for the Mi-8 fleet. It is believed that the Russian MoD will order at least 100 Mi-38Ts by 2020.