Between the two of us, Fishbreath is the clear rotorhead. And that’s fine. He really likes flying helicopters in sims.
I, on the other hand, am coming at this from the logistican’s perspective. I’m looking for a helicopter to haul stuff. It should be cheap. It should be reasonably modern. It should be readily available in numbers. Armored thrusts need lots of fuel, ammo, and food, and we need ways to get that materiel to the front. Let’s look at some big, ugly cargo helicopters. They’re probably no fun to fly, but they’re important just the same.
The most obvious choice would be the Mi-26. The biggest helicopter in mass production. Of course, being Russian, lower initial purchasing price comes with higher maintenance costs. That’s not a big dealbreaker though. Of greater concern is the revanchist Russian bear. Can they be depended on to supply spare parts in the future? The production line is also moderate. Besides, I’m sure Fishbreath is waiting to throw politics into this. Let’s dig deeper.
We come to that big, US Army classic: the CH-47F Chinook. It’s been in production since 1962. It can carry 55 men or just under 11 tonnes of cargo. Three machine guns can be mounted to cover soldiers. It maxes out at 170 knots. Plus, the price is reasonable. Not quite Russian cheap, but the service life is better, especially as far as engines are concerned.
Compared to other Western options, the Chinook is a real bargain. It’s almost one third of the cost of the big CH-53K, but carries two thirds the payload. Also, unlike the CH-53K, it’s in full-rate production now. It’s also a pretty common helicopter. This means spares are easy to come by, the secondary market can supplement our orders, and most importantly, that someone else (namely the U.S. Army) is on the hook for funding upgrades, not us.
There’s not much out of Europe that can lift as much as a Chinook can. The NH90 can’t (it’s more of an oversized Blackhawk), and it’s more expensive to boot. Plus, it’s been plagued with all manner of difficulties. Not that the Chinook hasn’t, but any such problems are long ago. Call me when the NH90 has been through several wars.
Like most modern helicopters, the Chinook has plenty of optional extras. High end digital controls built under common architecture principles are readily available, along with midair refueling equipment and modern composite rotors. There are three pintles (left, right, and rear exit doors) for mounting machine guns. It’s got a long, proven history of good service.
There’s not much more we could ask for in a cargo helicopter.