This has got to be the ugliest helicopter ever.

I mean, the Apache is one thing. The Hind is another, and I could even stomach the (cough) Hormone on a good day. The Mi-28, however, looks like it was made by Blue Peter (probably with some help from Eurocopter), sticking together old motorcycle parts and toilet roll tubes. It is fugly:

I showed the above picture to my Mother, who immediately remarked that it looked like a cartoon mouse, bless her.

I would be remiss however, to understate the Mi-28's abilities as a combat helicopter. In which respect it seems pretty badass.

History, such as it is

The Mi-28 is part of Russia's current generation of attack helicopters; it was the product of a competition, entered by Russian helo builders Mil and Kamov, to replace the ageing Hind as Russia's main ground attack helicopter. The Hind's dual role as an attack helicopter and troop carrier had rarely worked well on the few occasions it was used that way, so a straight tank-killer like the US's Apache was ordered by the Russian government.

This was Mil's entry into the competition. Nicknamed Havoc by NATO, it is one of the newest combat helicopter designs in existence today, rolled out as it was in 1982 (though not seen by the West until the Paris airshow in 1989) . It was a more 'traditional' machine than its predecessor, much like the Apache in overall layout and sharing many facilities. Only uglier.

In fact the Hokum won the competition but since the money wasn't there for production it was a pretty empty win. For some reason Russia commissioned an all-weather/night-capable version of the Havoc anyway, possibly because the Hokum was not well-received in some circles due to its single-man crew. This later version of the Havoc was unveiled in 1997, though unsurprisingly it remains to be put into production. Mil has since been seeking export buyers.

Design & Layout

I will stop short of saying Mil "copied" the Apache's layout when designing the Mi-28 as I certainly can't claim to have the full story on this or any Russian hardware I have noded. However the similarities between the two are manifold and it certainly looks like Mil have taken a good few leaves out of Hughes' (original designers of the Apache) book of badass helicopter things.

The Mi-28 retains a couple of facets of the Mi-24's design, those being the single-rotor fuselage with a stepped cockpit design (also found on the Eurocopter Tiger, the Apache and Italy's Mangusta A129) and the ability to carry passengers. Although it is not obvious when looking at it, there is a hatch compartment in the fuselage that can accommodate two or three passengers. Ostensibly this is for search and rescue (SAR) purposes, but obviously other things could be put in there too. Like porn, for example.

Power for the five-blade main rotor and 'scissor' style tail rotor - see the Apache - is supplied by two Klimov TV-3-117 engines (the same used on late model Hinds), each delivering 2,200hp. They can propel the Mi-28 up to 180mph, and are mounted in pods on either side of the fuselage for enhanced survivability. Again, see the Apache's design.

These engines have filtration and deflection systems on the intakes to prevent dust entering them on unprepared airstrips. Long, downturned exhausts with air mixers cool the exhaust gases with outside air giving the Havoc a greatly reduced heat signature compared to the Hind, making it less vulnerable to heat-seeking missiles.

Armaments are carried on two stub wings mounted underneath the engines, each with a chaff and flare dispenser at the tip. These wings do not provide lift. There are two weapon pylons on each wing, on which unguided rocket pods, AT-6 Spiral antitank missiles or SA-18 Grouse air to air missiles can be carried amongst other things. Fixed armament is a chin-mounted 30mm cannon, slaved to the gunner's helmet (where he looks, the gun points), much like the Apache's 30mm chaingun. It can fire up to 900 1kg shells per minute, at 1000 feet per second. The gun range is about 1.6km.

Havoc-B ('Night Havoc')

This is an evolution of the original Havoc design, carrying extra avionics and upgraded targeting systems to enable it to operate at night or in poor weather conditions. Most of the modifications are internal but some are not, the most obvious of these being a mast-mounted radar like the Apache Longbow's fire control radar (FCR) dome. If the two are at all comparable this is the single most expensive component of the helicopter. Like the Apache's version it gives the Havoc-B what amounts to a periscope, which it can poke up from behind cover to illuminate targets without putting the helicopter itself in danger. The radar can also provide navigation data.

More similarities to the Apache are included in the Night Havoc: nose-mounted daytime TV and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras are fitted on rotating mounts under the 'snout' in the nose, as is a laser rangefinder. This is comparable to the panning and tilting sensor barrel on the nose of the Apache, though how it compares technologically is unknown. Further improvements include more powerful engines (now 2,500hp) with a fuel management system, a stronger gearbox and swept-back rotor tips for greater efficiency.

A further modification under the Night Havoc's hood is a digital information sharing system. It contains transmission equipment to transfer data between facilities such as air defence installations, command posts and other aircraft. This means the crew can get a more complete picture of a battlefield using information collected by their colleagues, and provide them with the same assistance.

Stuff about the Havoc that is cool

  • Self-healing fuel tanks
    That's right, if one of the Mi-28's several fuel tanks is punctured, latex immediately seals the hole. The fuel feed systems are maintained at a vacuum so even if the fuel systems are damaged, fuel will not spill out and fill the helicopter's innards and possibly catch fire.
  • Shock absorbers
    Not only are the Mi-28's swept-back undercarriage struts equipped with hydraulic shock absorbers but the seats are too! This makes it possible for the crew of a Havoc to survive a ground impact of up to 12 metres per second (27mph).
  • Ejector seats
    There are very few helicopters in existence equipped with ejector seats. Special allowances must be given in the design if they are to be included (all Russian military helicopter pilots must wear parachutes), this being either rotors fixed with explosive bolts (i.e. the rotors are jettisoned prior to the ignition of the seat rockets) or seats that eject sideways. In the Mi-28's case the cockpit doors are blown off, the stub wings are jettisoned and air bladders are inflated below the door frames just prior to ejection to make sure the crew are directed away from the helicopter.
  • Bulletproof cockpit
    Of course this isn't an uncommon feature in combat helo design - the Hind has cockpit glass almost as strong as armour plating - but is still cool. The Havoc's cockpit glass can take hits from 12mm bullets and 20mm shell fragments, but most coolly does not glint in bright sunlight. Combat helo pilots love to stay hidden.
  • Survivability
    This is an area where Mil appears to have learnt something from their American counterparts but added plenty of their own ingenuity. As well as the aforementioned magic fuel tanks, the general infrastructure design of the Mi-28 is such that the most critical systems are buried within the helicopter fuselage with redundant, widely separated backup systems all protected by less important systems on the outside. The main gearbox can take cannon hits and operate for 30 minutes without any oil (sources don't finish that sentence with "before it is destroyed", but that is probably the case) and the composite rotors can reportedly operate adequately even after taking hits from 30mm shell fragments.


This is speculative at best, since the Mi-28 has not yet entered production. There is probably only a single-figure amount of examples in existence.

Although the Mi-28 is designed to perform the same mission as the Apache and contains many of the same elements it is over two tonnes heavier, though smaller. It is unclear where this extra weight comes from, though it is speculated that the more powerful cannon is a significant factor. That said the Havoc is marginally faster than the Apache and it certainly doesn't sound as if its manoeuvrability is particularly bad. Indeed it has been lauded, noting public performances where it has performed snap rolls and loops, something not many helicopters are capable of. When in hover it can perform a complete 360° in four seconds and, amusingly, can fly backwards or sideways at up to 60mph.

The Havoc helicopters go a long way in assisting the crew, particularly the Night Havoc, though both far more than the Hind. The computer-assisted fire control systems are comparable to those of the Apache, with targeting systems that follow the direction of the gunner's eye and automatic prioritisation of weapons. Effort has been made to make flying the Havoc easier for the crew; related controls are all grouped together and non-critical functions can all be digitally managed if required so the crew can concentrate on other matters, like not being killed.

Hopefully the Rostvertol (the name of the now-commercial Mil organisation) company will find some export success for this helicopter, since it seems unlikely that it will be introduced in any number by the former Soviet Union for some time. It is a pity this machine has not had the opportunity to be tested in combat or exercises, since it certainly appears to have the potential to be a serious rival to the Apache's otherwise-unmatched domination of a battlefield.

It still looks ridiculous though.

  • mailto:robert@military.czcz; "Mi-28 Havoc";
  • Nann, Paul; Mueller, Thomas; TommaX, Inc; "Mil Mi-28 Havoc"
  • Pike, John (editor); "Mi-28 HAVOC";
  • Goebel, Greg; "Mi-28 HAVOC";
  • SPG Media Ltd (Author not specified); "MI-28A/N HAVOC ATTACK HELICOPTER, RUSSIA";
  • (Author not specified); "Mil Mi-28";
  • Kubala, Michael; "Rotary-Wing Aircraft";