Spotters at this year’s AirVenture show at Whitman Field can expect to see a Mil Mi-2 Hoplite (N211PZ) in full camo livery touching down on the grass on Thursday. Be careful not to judge the 1978 Polish-built Soviet-era relic by its cover however. This Mil is different. Owned by the University of Iowa’s Operator Performance Lab (OPL), N211PZ has a Rockwell Collins-built Common Aircraft Avionics System (CAAS) glass cockpit, with synthetic vision, and carries advanced sensors including Rockwell Collins’ latest generation weather radar, lidar and electro-optical sensors. A key part of the Hoplite’s job is to test the fusion of synthetic and enhanced vision (radar, EO/IR, etc) into a comprehensive situational awareness tool to help pilots fly safely.
Tom Schnell, founder and director of OPL, purchased the PZL-Swidnik Mi-2 from the Cold War Air Museum in Texas, where it had been acquired from the Bulgarian Air Force. Schnell converted the GTD-350P-powered twin to a high tech sensor testbed, primarily for U.S. military research work, often in partnership with avionics maker Rockwell Collins, located 30 min. north of OPL’s facilities in Iowa City, Iowa. With CAAS, Schnell has plenty of extra input channels that he’s only too happy to fill up with high-definition video from the cache of sensors that is continually growing, but not always visible to the public. Surrounding the CAAS cockpit is an anachronism of a helicopter, albeit one that is solidly and smartly built, and easily flown (once you get the engines up and running). Peculiarities to note: The rotor spins clockwise when looking at it from above (right-hand rule, thumb into the dirt), the opposite from U.S. helicopters, and there is a rear-view mirror, a practical aftermarket add-on by Schnell so he can keep eye contact on the technicians in the rear of the spacious cabin. In this case it's Josh Baynes, media relations guru for Rockwell Collins back there.
The video below shows the engine starting sequence for the 400 shp GTD-350P engines. Note the confusing directions on the information plates in the cockpit, which were translated from Russian at the factory for export sales.
Maximum book speed is 108 kt., with a range of 237 nm. and service ceiling of 13,125 ft. The Mi-2 holds up to eight passengers, or 1,540 lb. of internal kit, or 1,760 lb. of external cargo. Our short flight from Iowa City (KIOW) to the Cedar Rapids airport included a fly-over of a nearby airport.