Ul. Novatorov 5
Rostov, Russia-based Rostvertol plc is a major producer of helicopters, including its flagship Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter. The company, which remains under state control, also produces a variety of other goods, including cargo trailers for automotive use, vans, foldable beds, telephones, stepladders, and even video cassettes. Nevertheless, helicopters remain the group's specialty. The Mi-26 has long held the world record for its lift capacity. The craft has climbed to 6,300 meters with a 10-ton load and higher than 4,000 meters with a 25-ton load. In addition to its military applications, the Mi-26 has been adapted for fighting forest fires and is also used extensively for difficult-to-reach construction projects. Another model, the Mi-24, is built for both transport and combat use, while the Mi-28 offers round-the-clock flying capability and the ability to fly at extremely low altitudes. Rostvertol also produces two lightweight helicopters, the Mi-2A and the Mi-60MAI. The company supports its aircraft sales through the production of main rotor blades, including replacement blades for its previous models. In 2003, Rostvertol set up a services subsidiary, Rostvertol Aviation Company Ltd., which provides air transport and fire fighting services as well as training and maintenance for the company's helicopters. Rostvertol is led by director general Boris Nikolayevich Slyusar and produces more than $1.9 billion in revenues per year.
Specializing in Helicopters in the 1950s
Rostvertol's origins lay in the build up to the "Great Patriotic War" (Russia's term for World War II). In 1939, a production complex was established in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, in order to produce wooden propellers for civil and military aircraft in the Soviet Union. The outbreak of hostilities in western Europe forced the Soviets to step up their own armament campaign, and soon after its founding the Rostov site was expanded to include the production of entire craft, including engines.
Rostov first began production of the I-16 fighter plane during the period of truce between the Stalinist government and the Nazi regime. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the Rostov facility stepped up production. The plant began manufacturing the UT-2M airplane, then added production of the famous PO-2 in 1943. Originally designed by Polikarpov in the late 1920s, the PO-2, a wooden biplane with a five-cylinder piston engine, had long been outclassed by more modern fighter craft. Yet the PO-2 played a vital role as a night-time harassment bomber during World War II: capable of flying low and too small to be detected by radar, the PO-2 was easy to fly and cheap to build.
The Rostov plant continued to build the PO-2 into the late 1940s. By then, however, the site had begun to install metal-working capacity and in 1949 began to manufacture a new airplane type, the YAK-14 assault glider. Capable of carrying up to 25 people, the YAK-14 became the Rostov site's first all-metal aircraft. It was soon followed by the IL-10M, which was designed by Sergei Ilyushkin and debuted in 1952. That plane, which boasted plating capable of withstanding small arms and even rocket fire, earned the nickname the "Flying Tank." The IL-10M played an important role in both the Soviet and Allied air forces through the end of the Korean War. In the meantime, the Rostov plant had begun production of a successor plane, the IL-40, the plant's first to feature turbo-jet engines. The high-speed plane was also fitted out with small arms and rocket launchers, making it a potent attack craft.
In the early 1950s, The Rostov plant had become an important part of a new effort--the creation of the first Soviet helicopters. This initiative was being spearheaded by the government's Moscow-based Design Bureau, headed by Mikhail Mil. The Rostov site, as well as sister facilities in Kashov and elsewhere, began helicopter production with a light craft designated as the M-1. Mil then began working on a new type of helicopter capable of lifting heavy loads that could be used to support the country's large-scale construction and infrastructure projects. By 1959, the first Mi-6 heavy-lift helicopters went into production in Rostov.
During the 1960s, the Rostov plant converted its production to specialize in the manufacture of helicopters, especially heavy-lifting craft. The site then became known as the Rostov Helicopter Plant. The Mi-6 design proved highly successful, both within the Soviet Union and throughout the Soviet sphere of influence, and it remained in production for more than 20 years.
Setting New Lifting Records in the 1980s
The era of the helicopter began with the war in Vietnam, where the terrain hampered the operation of traditional fixed wing craft. The heavy-lifting helicopter segment had been developing especially rapidly. In the 1960s, the Rostov Plant set up the production technology for a new type of heavy lifter, the Mi-10. Production of that helicopter, capable of lifting as much as 15 tons, began at Rostov in 1964.
Although the Mi-10 set a number of lifting records, it did not attract the same level of international interest as its predecessor, and the model was dropped after 1969. In the mid-1970s, however, the Rostov plant adapted the Mi-10, producing the Mi-10K crane helicopter. This model featured a special cockpit beneath the fuselage that provided pilot controls and controls for operating a specially fitted crane. Limited run production began in 1974 and ended into the following year; the Mi-10K models nevertheless remained in service for many years thereafter.
The mid-1960s had seen the launch of a new assault and transport helicopter, the Mi-24, and production of the model (designated as the Mi-35 outside of the Soviet Union) began in 1969. Known as the Hind, the new design became the first Soviet helicopter to feature attack transport and gunship capacity and was said to outclass even its U.S. rivals. The M-24 Hind became an international success, and in 1973 the Rostov site began producing the craft in order to meet growing demand.
The Mil Design Bureau--named after Mikhail Mil after his death in 1970--began preparing a new generation of heavy-lifting craft during the 1970s. The role of the Rostov plant in the development of the new craft, which made its maiden flight in 1978, was particularly significant. By 1980, the new model went into full production. Dubbed the Mi-26, it once again established a new world's record for heavy lifting. In tests performed in 1982, the craft soared past 6,300 meters carrying a 10-ton load and passed the 4,000 meter mark with a 25-ton load, the heaviest load ever transported by helicopter.
Corporate Status in the New Century
With the launch of the Mi-26, Rostov ended production of the Mi-6. The plant became one of the primary building sites for the Mi-26 and participated in developing new variations of the design, including its adaptation as a fire fighting vehicle by the Belgian firm Skytech.
The uses of the Mi-26 continued to expand throughout the 1980s. The craft participated in the exploitation of the Siberian oilfields and provided support for the containment effort following the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power facility in the late 1980s. The Rostov facility later came to specialize in building the Mi-26T, which was designed for the transport of trucks and other vehicles as well as bulky cargo. Rostov also began producing a number of variations on the Mi-24 combat helicopter. These included the Mi-24D, a troop transporter and assault vehicle, and the Mi-24V, which featured a deadlier armament complement than the Mi-24D.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union at the start of the 1990s, the Russian military complex went through a restructuring program. As part of that effort, the Rostov plant was reformed as a public limited company, Rostvertol, in 1992. Although still under state control, Rostvertol was now expected to compete as an independent company.
The end of the Soviet era helped open new markets for the company, such as Greece, which became an important Rostvertol customer, and Peru, which received its first Rostvertol helicopters in 1995. South Korea, India, China, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates were also added to Rostvertol's list of buyers. However, not all orders came from governments. In 1997, the company delivered an Mi-26 to Korea Samsung Aerospace and later to the Cyprus-based Nutshell Company. Rostvertol also began building lighter-weight helicopters, such as the Mi-2A light helicopter and the Mi-60 lightweight training helicopter. In addition, the company responded to the worldwide drop-off in military spending by expanding production into a variety of new, non-military areas. For this sector, the company began producing such varied goods as cargo trailers for automotive use, vans, foldable beds, telephones, stepladders, and video cassettes.
Rostvertol continued to attract new customers, including Mexico, which took delivery of its first helicopters in 2000. The company also worked on developing new variants of its core helicopter line, such as the Mi-26P, which was fitted out for round-the-clock use and went into production in 2002. The following year, the company began flight testing its all-weather variant, developed in conjunction with Mil MHP (the successor to the Mil Design Bureau), the Mi-24N. The company also developed another variant, the Mi-24PN, for the Russian government.
Rostvertol continued seeking new clients, such as Brazil, where the company found itself in head-to-head competition with the American firm of Sikorsky. Several days after tendering its bid, Rostvertol found itself blacklisted by the U.S. government for selling military equipment to countries accused of supporting international terrorism.
Undaunted, Rostvertol continued to develop new helicopter designs in conjunction with long-time partner Mil MHP. The company also moved to expand its service arm, forming new subsidiary Rostvertol Aviation Company Ltd. in 2003 to provide air cargo transportation and fire fighting and other services using the company's own helicopters, as well as providing maintenance, repairs, and support services for the company's sales. In February 2004, the company announced that it was preparing to launch a next-generation assault helicopter, the Mi-28N, capable of round-the-clock, all-weather operation. The new craft boasted superior plating for protection against increasingly deadly ground fire. The company expected full-scale production of the new model to begin in 2006 and had already filled its order book into 2015. Rostvertol entered the 21st century as a leading specialist in the global helicopter industry.
Principal Subsidiaries: Rostvertol Aviation Company Ltd.; Rostvertol International NV/AG/SA (Belgium).
Principal Competitors: Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.; Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation; Aviation Industries Corporation of China; Boeing Company; EADS France S.A.S.; Lockheed Martin Corporation.