Is It Safe?

January 25, 2008: The Afghan Air Force wanted American flight instructors for the Russian Mil-8 and Mil-17 helicopters they were getting from several sources (including Russia.) The Afghans preferred U.S. instructors, even for Russian equipment, because the Americans had a reputation for being thorough, and not certifying anyone who was not really ready to fly reliably and safely. The U.S. Department of Defense sent someone in to check out the situation, and found that the Afghans were rather loose when it came to maintenance standards. Not a lot of accidents so far, but flying the Afghan maintained choppers would definitely be an exciting experience for American pilots. The Department of Defense told the Afghans that they could have American instructors if they got their helicopter maintenance up to American standards. The U.S. sent in people to help with that, and now the Afghan Mi-17s are much more reliable. The U.S. Air Force is sending some instructors to show Afghans how to fly the Mi-17. Some of these instructors just recently learned how to fly the Mi-17. First they went over manuals, then spent some time on a computer flight simulator. Finally, they finished off on Mi-17s in the United States or Eastern Europe. The whole process takes a month or so. The Mi-17 is similar enough to American choppers that the U.S. pilots pick it up easily. What they Afghans are mostly looking for are safer flying habits. The 1960s era Mi-8 (export versions are called Mi17) is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1 "Huey", but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior, and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. But the UH-60, while weighing as much as the UH-1 (4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 12 ton Mi-8. But the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Nearly 3,000 Mi17s have been exported. If you want mobility for the least cost, you get the Mi-17, and that's why the Afghans are happy with these machines.