A Look Back At The USSR’s Mi-6 Helicopter Airliner

Most of us would equate commercial airline travel with fixed-wing aircraft, but civilian transport by helicopter, especially in large and sparsely populated regions, is common enough. It was once even big business in the Soviet Union, where the Aeroflot airline operated passenger helicopters in regular service for many decades. In the mid-1960s they even started work on converting the Mil Mi-6 — the USSR’s largest and fastest helicopter — to carry paying passengers. Unfortunately this never got past a single prototype, with the circumstances described by [Oliver Parken] in a recent article.

This passenger version of the Mi-6 got the designation Mi-6P (for passazhirskyi, meaning passenger) and would have seated up to 80 (3 + 2 row configuration), compared to the Mi-8 passenger variant that carried 28 – 31 passengers. Why exactly the Mi-6P never got past the prototype stage is unknown, but its successor in the form of the Mi-26P has a listed passenger variant and features. Both have a cruising speed of around 250 km/h, with a top of 300 km/h. The auxiliary winglets of the Mi-6 provided additional lift during flight, and the weight lifting record set by the Mi-6 was only broken by the Mi-26 in 1982.

An obvious disadvantage of passenger helicopters is that they are more complicated to operate and maintain, while small fixed wing airliners like the ATR 72 (introduced in 1988) can carry about as many passengers, requires just a strip of tarmac to land and take off from, travel about twice as fast as an Mi-6P would, and do not require two helicopter pilots to fly them. Unless the ability to hover and land or take-off vertically are required, this pretty much explains why passenger helicopters are such a niche application. Not that the Mi-6P doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi to it, mind.

26 thoughts on “A Look Back At The USSR’s Mi-6 Helicopter Airliner

  1. The Soviet system made these machines to serve an economy that didn’t exist – almost nobody had the sort of income that would warrant helicopters or even regular airplane travel as a consumer service. As such, they existed only to please the political upper classes, at the expense of the working classes.

    1. Soviet system was not about profits and all that money making stuff at all. Transportation was insanely cheap and more than affordable for anybody. Planes and helicopters was as cheap as busses and trains. It was all about connectivity of such huge country, tickets was only to cover fuel and maintenance, sometimes only partially, not for any profit. The usefullness of ability to maintain connectivity between distant and sometimes unreacheable by land points was orders of magnitude valuable than cost of planes, helicopters, hydrofoils, icebreakers and other vehicles accounted as “expensive, only for upper classes” on the West. Even supersonic passenger TU-144 making flights between Moscow and Alma-Ata was for average soviet citizen with 84 roubles for ticket, against 60 roubles for regular subsonic flights. Compare that with Concord, f.e. Same with hydrofoils. They cost same as regular ships, all over USSR, being significantly faster. And here I can’t even found anything about passenger hydrofoil ticket prices in western countries- looks like there was no such thing as passenger hydrofoil transport at all but something tells me that they would have been significantly more expensive than regular ship routes.

      1. Commercial hydrofoil service is afaik still running between Macao and HonKong. I used it several times, it’s like taking the bus – just a means of transport. Prices were reasonable.

      2. You’re fighting a losing battle. Western propaganda and indoctrination is better that soviet propaganda. The majority of westerners cannot even differentiate between communism and socialism. They cannot imagine a socialist administrative system, because they cannot see past profit at any and all cost, and hence the damage it causes to things like infrastructure spending, growth, maintenance, etc. Infrastructure, utilities, and transport can be very cheap *and* sustainable…as long as you can manage to keep the greedy fingers out of the budget (i.e. privatized contracts).

        1. If it is “meteor” or “raketa” (rocket) (I am mixing them up) – that thing has cruising speed of around 60km/h. So if you want/need speed – the costs and comfort are pretty good.

      1. It depends on whether there is an all-powerful state that can direct public funds to some vanity project at the pretense of a public good, that will never materialize in the real world, that will actually only benefit some of the elite who are invested in the project.

  2. $10/minute to operate a small/medium single turbine helicopter.

    This thing has to cost $2000+/hour to fly.
    About $65+/seathour _cost_.

    That’s why they never made a second. It was just a bad idea.

    1. $65 per seathour (cool unit!!) seems really cheap. At the very very best southwest sometimes has like $69 deals to places a hour away, give or take. And that’s with modern jet airliner that is certainly massively more efficient than a rotorcraft.

  3. I think a very important aspect here is that helicopters are very noisy, especially large ones, and inside too, so not really pleasant for passengers since you’d have to give them earprotectors and all that. And if they wante to talk implement an intercom into them all.

    I used to have Chinooks come over from time to time and you sure know when those are about I can tell you.

  4. The ATR 42 and 72 could operate out of smaller regional airports, but not city centers (there is a more recent STOL version of the ATR 42). I made a few trans-Atlantic business trips from Boston to Europe in the mid 70s, which included transfers between LGA snd JFK on New York Airways Boeing Vertol 107 helicopters. The domestic helicopter airlines were gone a few years later, not so much due to the high operating costs, as it was noise and a series of rather spectacular crashes that killed all on board. Most famous, the 1977 crash of an NYA Sikorsky S61L on the roof of the Pan Am building, which killed several people waiting to board and a pedestrian walking on the street below.

  5. Pls , before do judging like americans usally do.
    Read the old documents. Understand the need for carying heavy loads, fright and individuals to muddy places where they even had no chance to land a helicopter.
    The poeple had to jump on/off board while the helicopter is hovering.
    So if You do know what transprotation in rural regions far off in Tundra, Siberia and the ice cold nordic regions means You would hold off spilling hate over a soviet made helicopter.
    Would You?

  6. I used to fly many times in MI-6 and Mi-8 helicopters as a passenger. But somehow it was free. I did never pay for. Not commercial flights. It was fun. Kinda missed it. It is not pleasant and noisy and kinda scary, but exciting.
    Most of MI-6 used for cargo.

  7. After playing the game Mudrunner and SnowRunner a helicopter makes a lot of sense

    (This is a game of being stuck in the mud, sometimes in Russia, and it is sometimes nearly impossible to get unstuck/actually reach your destinations)

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