Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, January 20
The Indian Air Force is preparing to ferry its Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters to Russia for major overhaul and life extension, following which its vertical heavy-lift capability will get a substantial boost.
The resurrected Soviet-origin helicopters will operate along with the IAF’s new American CH-47 Chinooks that are also employed in the heavy-lift logistics role for airlifting men and equipment.
At present, the IAF has three Mi-26s, the world’s largest and heaviest helicopters. These are based at Chandigarh with the 126 Helicopter Unit, also called Featherweights. The same unit also operates the Chinooks. In service since 1985, the first Mi-26 was grounded in 2013, followed by the other two in 2014 and 2017 on the expiry of their stipulated technical life. Although the IAF set into motion the process to give fresh lease of life to these grounded flying machines around four years ago, the plans remained mired in bureaucratic machinery.
“The files were finally cleared by the Ministry of Defence late last year and we are now finalising the modalities to ferry the machines to Russia. Since two of the Mi-26s are not in fly-worthy condition at all, they will have to be partially disassembled and shipped,” said a senior IAF officer. “A decision on the third chopper, which though non-operational but still fly-worthy, will be taken by Air Headquarters on whether to ship it or fly it to Russia after considering the costs, international air routing and other technicalities involved,” he added. The IAF expects that each helicopter will take 10-12 months to be back in fly-worthy state.
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