Over the last weekend I happened to see this video which talked about the Mil V-12 – the largest helicopter ever built. This was the exhibit which welcomed me at Central Air Force Museum, Monino on the outskirts of Moscow – a pilgrimage site for all aviation enthusiasts! I started reading more about it and when I discovered that only two were built, I decided to add my pictures and write about this a bit.
Central Air Force Museum
I visited Moscow (along with St. Petersburg) in 2013. High on the agenda was a visit to the Central Air Force Museum, Monino. From a friend who had done this visit before, I had learnt the difficulty in going there by train and then the long walk. An online search yielded nothing! It infact raised questions about the museum being open to the public and if yes, if photography was allowed or not!
There were other options like a private tour – which was exorbitant! We had paid for some walking tours in Moscow and met this guide who gave us a good package for the trip. A car pickup and drop, a former Russian Air Force pilot along as guide and entrance tickets. With my better half being dragged into this, the deal for two sounded perfect!
Off we were to Monino, at 0930 hours in the morning in the midst of Moscow traffic. Thankfully, our hotel was located at a vantage position which helped join the Ring road and turn onto M7 – the highway which goes up to Kazan via a town named Vladimir!
An hour and half later, we were on the village road navigating our way to the gates of the museum. The language barrier meant that I could hardly communicate with the driver-guide-pilot of ours with whom we came until here. Out of Moscow, and the fancy cars are replaced with some iconic Lada!
As we got down from the car in front of the hanger, the open air display wasn’t visible. I was more excited to walk towards it, but first we had to identify ourselves with our passports as an english speaking guide and translator waited for us. Formalities done, we headed to the entrance – an old gate which gave a good view of the exhibits with the Tupolev Tu-4 on the right and the Mil V-12 – the largest helicopter ever built on the left.
There is enough and more material available about this online but let me do a quick summary of what this was all about.
Mil was a former Soviet Helicopter design bureau, headquartered on the outskirts of Moscow. Established in 1947, the design bureau specialised in heavy lift helicopters and also produced Mi-26 – the world’s largest helicopter in operation. (The Mi-26 has seen active service with Indian Air Force). The design bureau merged with few others to form Russian Helicopters in 2006.
The idea of this helicopter was to lift Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) so that they would be transported by air to avoid being spied upon by rail or road transport by enemy aircraft. The dimensions had to be similar to AN-22 (another iconic aircraft). The design option included having a tandem system (like Chinook) but eventually settled for two Mil-6 engines mounted on nearly 100 feet long wings. The transverse rotor system eliminated the need for a tail rotor.
The cabin of the helicopter could accommodate 200 troops or passengers! This was the area which was to carry the ICBMs! The cockpit – divided on two floors has a crew of six, comprising the pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, radio engineer, technical engineer and navigator! While the navigator gets the unceremonious position in IL-76, here he sits in the upper cockpit area!
As for dimensions, with its length at 37 meters – it is nearly equal to that of an Airbus A320 whose length is 37.57 meters!
Visit across Iron Curtain
The first prototype appeared at the 29th Paris Air Show at Le Bourget. The Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic aircraft also was present for the first time at the same edition. I could find a picture of that online. While the visit to Paris Air Show generated a lot of interest, it was more to show the might of the aviation industry in USSR and not for selling the products. Western Air Forces never bought Soviet hardware and vice versa and the products which made it to the western air shows were more to show the progress of USSR and its aviation industry.
While the first prototype flew in 1968, the project was eventually canned since the ICBMs became smaller and it was easier to carry them by trucks. All further development was stopped in the mid-1970s. With only two prototypes ever built!
Where are the planes now?
Online resources and google maps suggest that the two aircraft continue to be where they are. The first prototype at Moscow Helicopter Plant near Moscow and second continues to be at Monino. The first one is out of bounds since it is an active military complex. Google maps shows that it is without its rotors!