The Vietnam War paved the way for the venerable American “Huey Cobra” helicopter in the late 1960s. A decade later, the Russian “Hind” rose to prominence after taking inspiration from the previous war, subsequently reigning the skies through the Soviet-Afghan War—and over 50 years later, it remains a beast with its newer versions as Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine. What’s crazy here is that both the opposing forces in the recent conflict adore and continue to rely on the Soviet-era helicopter gunship, facing each other on the battlefield using identical versions in a fight between neighbors.
Many military pilots and helicopter enthusiasts revered the Mil Mi-24 for its outstanding performance during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan from late December 1979 to mid-February 1989, to which a handful of countries continue to operate it even well into the new millennium.
Taking Notes From America
Drawing inspiration from the American experience in Vietnam with the effectiveness of its Bell UH-1 Huey Cobra, the Soviets came up with a design that could ferry troops and, at the same time, serve as an aerial gun platform. At that time, such combining functions for the US troops were usually separated, and its lead designer, General Designer Mikhail Leontyevich Mil, wanted a single chopper to do both.
Mil proceeded to build a full-scale mockup of a “flying infantry fighting vehicle” designated as the V-24 in the mid-1960s, and by 1969, the prototype made her maiden flight and took three more years before officially introduced into operational service with the Soviet armed forces. NATO gave the newest Soviet whirlybird the nickname “Hind,” but for the Soviet pilots and aircrew, they dubbed the latest addition as the “flying tank,” a moniker first coined for the iconic World War II Soviet ground attack plane Il-2 Shturmovik. Other common unofficial names include “Krokodil” (“crocodile”), “Galina,” and “drinking glass.”
Initially, it served as an infantry-cargo transport (up to eight troops) in its rear compartment before gradually shifting to a gunship with its “Hind-D” variant. It has a crew of two or three composed of a pilot, a weapon system officer, and, optionally, a technician. Generally, the Hind was tasked to deploy an infantry of specialists such as sharpshooters, anti-tank teams, and MANPAD crews to initiate incursion in targeted areas alongside other local fire-support platforms (including the chopper itself).
Mi-8’s Direct Descendant
Looking like a direct descendant of the Mi-8 “Hip,” the first batch of the venerable Mi-24s was not exactly flawless off the factory as it encountered technical issues with its cockpit visibility and had to be redesigned. Its basic specifications include a dimension of approximately 57.4 feet (17.5 meters) in length, 56.8 ft (17.3 m) in width (main rotor diameter), and 13 ft (4 m) in height, with a maximum takeoff weight of around 12,000 kg (26,455 lbs).
The Hind is powered by two Isotov TV3-117 Turboshaft engines that fire up the war chopper’s five-blade main rotor and a three-blade tail rotor up to a 181-knot max airspeed within a 240 nautical miles range and a service ceiling of about 16,100 ft. Later versions of the Mi-24 will feature several modifications in its overall appearance, combat and navigation systems, and other specs as the technology advances. Among these changes include the replacement of its nose-mounted machine gun, now utilizing a canon equipped with sensors. However, accordingly, the aircraft remained at the lower tier regarding its navigation and electronic instruments compared to the established Western aviation standards.
For its armaments, the mounted weapons vary widely on the production variant of the Mi-24, and it has a long list of options at its disposal, including “a flexible 12.7mm Yak-B Gatling gun, fixed twin-barrel GSh-30K or GSh-23L autocannon (depending on the variant of the chopper), 1,500 kilograms-worth of iron bombs or fuel-air bombs on external stores“—that can carry a number of anti-tank guided missiles, rocket pods, cannon pods, munitions dispenser pods, mine dispenser pods, and conventional drop bombs—to name a few.
The Mi-24 first saw action on the battlefield in the Ogaden War (1977-1978), when Ethiopian forces used the Hind in a combined arms assault against Somali troops before partaking in the ten-year Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, where it gained widespread traction and its moniker “Shaitan-Arba” (“Satan’s Chariot”) from the mujahedeen rebels. Despite its initial design as a troop transport, the chopper was usually used as an assault helicopter supporting ground troops, much like the American Bell UH-1, while other times as a straight helicopter gunship with locked targets. Thus, the number of casualties of its crews throughout the Russo-Afghan War.
It is estimated that the production number of Mi-24s is around 2,648 units and has been spread out among 58 countries besides Russia, and has participated in many armed conflicts since its introduction, including the Chadian–Libyan conflict (1978–1987), the Gulf War (1991), the War in Afghanistan (2001–2021), the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, the Crimean Peninsula and Donbas crisis (2014), and the most recent, the Russian invasion of Ukraine (2022-present), among many others.
No Direct Western Counterpart
While the Hind takes inspiration from the Bell UH-1 concept, there is no direct Western counterpart to the Soviet cold-blooded whirlybird—except, perhaps, to the MH-60 Black Hawks, but the latter’s release isn’t exactly around the same period as the Hind and is way more technologically advanced.
However, the sheer number of American AH-64 Apache helicopter units, in addition to its extensive operation as helicopter gunship support in various tactical and non-tactical missions, makes some enthusiasts compare the two. Not to mention that the American chopper also made it well into the new millennium despite its introduction in the mid-1980s and continues to be used by dozens of armed forces around the world.
It is to note, though, that the Apache is an attack helicopter right from its inception that heavily emphasizes its versatility and all-weather functions, which, at some point, was made to counter Soviet armor attacks specifically. Meanwhile, the Hind is identified as an assault helicopter that initiates aggressive aerial offense using its guided anti-armor missiles against enemy armored vehicles on the ground. The earlier versions were not equipped with all-weather features and had a very limited night-operation capability.
Despite being modernized, the Apache would remain to have the upper hand considering its ability to traverse challenging terrains under harsh conditions. Plus, its technical features are much more advanced than the Mi-24s, even after some modifications done in the succeeding years since its introduction.
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