Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Hoplite

In the NATO naming convention for Soviet equipment, all helicopter names start with the letter "H". The NATO code name for the Mi-2 helicopter is "Hoplite". A Hoplite was an armed citizen-soldier of the ancient Greek City-States.

In the last century, WW1 was a remarkable example of "static" warfare. Major armies spent years slugging it out between trenches only hundreds of yards (meters) apart. By contrast, WW2 was a war of mobility. From the German Blitzkrieg to Patton's relief of the siege at Bastogne, the Eighth Air Force or the massive fleets and landings in the Pacific, the world had never before seen such massive movement of men and machines.

While helicopters embodied man's earliest dream of taking off directly into flight, as a bird can, or an angel might, they are very complex. Useful machines did not enter service until after the huge technical advances of WW2. With helicopters, the cold war extended the concept of mobility on the ground or sea into a third dimension, air-mobility.

Early development began before WW2. In the U.S. a Russian émigré, Igor Sikorsky produced the first practical machines. In Russia, Mikhail Mil became the recognized leader and received his own design bureau. In the Soviet Union, 95% of all helicopters were designed by the Mil Design Bureau and helicopters there were often simply called "Mils". In the U.S. we shorten the designation of design and type, such as Mil-2 to Mi-2 or popularize the NATO designator such as "Hind" (Mi-24).

The first prototype of the Mi-2 flew in 1961 and it is generally considered to be the USSR's answer to the US Bell UH-1 "Huey". Production was licensed to PZL-Swidnik in Poland in 1965 and more than 5500 were produced. Like the Bell "Huey" it has been adopted all over the world. Countries operating the Mi-2 are shown in red above.

As a utility transport, the Mi-2 can carry eight passengers plus the pilot or more than 1,500 pounds (700 kilos) of cargo internally or externally. It can be fitted with a door winch for Search and Rescue. In a medical evacuation role, it can carry four stretchers and a medical attendant and in the agricultural role it can be fitted with a hopper on each side carrying dry chemicals or liquids.

An Mi-2 is shown here in Iraq in an agricultural sprayer configuration. Like the Huey, the Mi-2 performs well in both its citizen and soldier roles and the designator "Hoplite" seems appropriately fitting.

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