Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 121

Believing its military and civilian helicopter industry highly competitive on the world market, Moscow counts on foreign sales to help sustain that industry until the Russian economy recovers from its recent difficulties. Recently the Kamov Design Bureau–one of the two top Russian helicopter developers–had both a major success and a serious setback. Finalizing a four-year determination, Canada has just certified the Kamov Ka-32A transport helicopter–opening the door for increased sales in the West. The Ka-32 is a civilian version of the Ka-27 “Helix”, a helicopter in service with the Russian Navy since the early 1980s. Two Ka-32s have been used in British Columbia to transport logs. In Russia, the aircraft is also used as a water bomber in fighting forest fires. In May 1996, two were sold to South Korea for the same use. (Russian media, June 16)

The Ka-32 success was, however, more than offset by the crash last week of a Ka-50 “Black Shark” assault helicopter. That craft was one of only ten in service with the Russian army. It was being flown by the commander of the army’s aviation training center, Major General Boris Vorobyov, who was killed in the crash. Reports indicated that one of the helicopter’s rotors disintegrated during a high-speed low level flight. (Russian media, June 18, 19)

Kamov has traditionally built helicopters for the Navy. The Ka-50 was its first serious effort to develop an attack helicopter. Most helicopters throughout the world feature a single main set of rotor blades for lift offset by a small tail rotor to counteract the torque of the main rotor. In contrast, Kamov helicopters rely on two main rotors which turn in opposite directions–doing away with the need for a separate tail rotor. The use of this design for attack aircraft, however, has had its critics. The Ka-50 has long been locked in a competition with the Mil-28 as the preferred attack helicopter in re-equipping the Russian army. Some army officers have voiced concern that the Ka-50 twin-rotor system is not sturdy enough for the demands placed upon a modern attack helicopter. The death of Vorobyov will certainly reinforce these concerns and could complicate Kamov’s current efforts to sell the Ka-50 to Turkey, Slovakia and Finland.