When it came to weapons and other military equipment, in the USSR size was important. From the table of the Soviet engineers came the largest submarines of their time, the 941 Akula, or the Ekranoplanos, huge planes designed to float on the oceans and that would not be out of place in a “war-futuristic” movie shot in the middle of 2023. They blew the winds of the Cold Warthose of the perpetual arms battle between Washington and Moscow… And—you know—it was just as important to have military muscle as it was for the enemy to know it.
Against such a backdrop, the aircraft’s history is perhaps less surprising. Mil V-12. Its history and its size. Although it was made more than half a century ago, in the 1960s, it still it is marked often as the largest helicopter in history, a merit that recognizes him Guinness World Records thanks to a surprising figure: its maximum takeoff weight was around 105,000 kilograms. For reference, a two-axle truck weighs at most 18,000 kg.
In addition to being huge, the Mil V-12 —also known as the V-12, mi-12 or simply Homerthe NATO code name for it—had a peculiarity shared with other displays of Cold War war engineering: a history of fiascoes and great efforts that come at the wrong time.
A huge ship to go unnoticed
To know the origin of the Mil V-12, we have to go back to the middle of the last century, towards the end of the 50s and 60s, to be more precise, when the USSR deployed a network of nuclear missile bases. In Moscow they soon realized one of their great weaknesses: they had intercontinental ballistic weaponryBut if they wanted to transport it to inconspicuous silos, where they could keep it safe from enemy surveillance, they needed to move it.
And move them safe from spies and prying eyes, of course.
What options did they have? The authorities had the train, but the Soviet railway network was far from exemplary and it was not very smart that each military installation was betrayed by a branch of rails and sleepers. The secret bases were less so, in short, if he came with taking a map of the Russian train to get an idea of where they could be located.
Another alternative was to transport the missiles by air, but such a solution had its complications. As remember in Auto Evolutionthe helicopters Mil Mi-6one of the best options available to the Soviet commanders, fell short of displacing big loads. More was needed.
So things… How to transport the intercontinental ballistic missiles discreetly, safe from the control of spy planes deployed by the United States precisely to detect and monitor Soviet weaponry?
The solution of the Soviet engineers was quite simple: a cargo helicopter. a huge one. The largest built to date. The project received the OK from the authorities in 1962 and for more than five years its technicians dedicated themselves to designing an authentic aerial mass, the V-12which made its maiden flight in 1968.
To shape such an aircraft, they opted for a double-rotor design and four turboshaft engines. Soloviev D-25VF placed in pairs, distributed in external gondolas. each generated 4,780 kW. Not long after, in 1971, they demonstrated their skill to the world by presenting it at the Paris Salon.
The big question at this point is… Was the V-12 really that big?
Popular Mechanics shells some data from its technical sheet that help to get an idea of its magnitude: the cargo box was 28.5 meters long and 4.4 meters high and wide, enough to fly with urban buses in its “guts”. On board it could carry 196 passengers or up to 88,000 poundsabout 39,900 kilos of cargo, which added to the 69,100 that the ship weighed to reach the mark recognized by the Guinness World Records. The length of it was around 37 meters, almost like two articulated buses. As for its wingspan, it reached 67 between rotors.
To operate the V-12, a crew of six people was needed, including pilot, co-pilot and other technical personnel, who were distributed over a double height cab. Its top speed: about 260 kilometers per hour. Regarding autonomy, Accurate AutoEvolution that reached 500 kilometers.
Huge size, stunning appearance, a genuine feat of Soviet engineering… but also an epic fiasco, worthy of the wake left by other Cold War artifacts, such as the unfortunate Sea Shadow from the US. The reason? By 1971, when the USSR boasted of its enormous helicopter in Paris, the V-12 was already good for little more than that: puffing up its chest against the rest of the powers.
The advance in the arms race and the control systems ended up making it less useful. Perhaps he came in handy in the late 1950s, but over time they were recorded various trends that made the support of a gimmick like the V-12 worthless: first, the US improved its spy satellites; second, the intercontinental missiles themselves were made light enough to be loaded onto trucks; and third, technological development increased the power of each shell, reducing the need for new bases.
Before shelving the project and moving on to more manageable projects, such as the huge Mil Mi-26the USSR came to build two prototypes of the V-12, one of them still conserved in the Central Museum of the Russian Air Forcein Monino, in the oblast from Moscow. Today, more than six decades after the project’s inception, it stands as a memento of Cold War deployment.
And fattens the list of projects as surprising as they are catastrophic.
In Xataka: This was the I-400 “aircraft carrier submarines” with which Japan wanted to hit the US in World War II