There is little doubt that Russia's Mil Mi-8/17 medium-transport helicopter family has been a big winner in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The sturdy airframe with lift capability has become a darling of international organizations and others. It is the backbone of the Iraqi military's helicopter transport fleet, as it will be for Afghanistan's. That has drawn outside interest.

The Mi-8/17 family has been a huge success story for Russian Helicopters and rankles Western manufacturers that have seen it drive away their business opportunities. Sikorsky, for instance, challenged a Pentagon program to buy Mi-17s for Afghanistan.

Eurocopter has devised a plan to fight back in the market, rather than relying on legal maneuvers: It is offering a low-cost Super Puma. While the acquisition cost would still be higher than that for the Mi-171, Eurocopter President/CEO Lutz Bertling says the goal is to convince operators that the Super Puma's greater reliability would quickly offset the cost. Notionally, the company believes operators flying the rotorcraft more than 1,200 hr. would see a return within two years. Bertling says talks to finalize the first contracts are underway.

While the initial configuration would be bare-bones, Eurocopter is keeping the door open for users to gradually field a more capable system. Through Vector Aerospace, which Eurocopter acquired last year, it would offer avionics and other upgrades customers request.

But Russian Helicopters is not sitting idle, either. It has assembled the first Mi-171A2 prototype, the most advanced modification in the Mil Mi-8 family. The first prototype airframe was delivered from the Ulan-Ude aviation plant, a Russian Helicopters subsidiary, to the Mil Moscow helicopter plant at the end of January. Mil designers will complete the prototype's assembly and conduct ground and flight tests. Mil expects to receive a second airframe from Ulan-Ude by year-end.

Russian Helicopters plans to complete certification of the new version under the Russian AP-29 standard in the first half of 2014 and start deliveries before 2015.

The A2 is a further evolution of the Mi-171A1, also built in Ulan-Ude, that is certified in Russia and Brazil. The new version will use more powerful Klimov VK-2500PS-03 turboshaft engines with full-authority digital engine controls and anti-surge control system as well as improved swashplate, composite blades for the main rotor and X-shaped tail rotor. It will be equipped with a glass cockpit based on the Aviapribor PKV-171 digital avionics suite. These improvements aim to increase the helo's range, flight speed, payload capacity, service ceiling and operational temperature envelope.

Mi-171A2 Specifications
Engines (2) Klimov VK-2500PS-03 turboshafts
Avionics suite Aviapribor PKV-171
Range 460 nm
Max. flight speed 174 mph
Payload capacity 5 tons
Max. service ceiling 19,685 ft.
Static ceiling 13,123 ft.
Operational temperatures -58F to 122F
Source: Russian Helicopters