When we think of the Indian Air Force, the first thing that flashes in our mind is the supersonic fighter jets being flown by brave pilots like Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, engaged in a dog fight with enemy aircraft. While that is definitely a part of Indian Air Force, the winged armed force is known for other pertinent tasks including flying the Prime Minister of India, performing HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) operations, and transporting troops to uncharted territories.
And all these operational tasks can’t be performed by the fighter jets of IAF which includes the trusted wardog MiG-21, indigenous HAL Tejas and the advanced Sukhoi Su-30MKI among others. Rather, such tasks are performed by the non-flashy helicopters (with the recent induction of Boeing-made Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, they have become flashy too!).
The IAF's helicopter fleet has steadily been increasing over the past few years and the highlight, of course, is the recent addition of Boeing-made Apache AH-64E attack helicopters. Apart from these, the Indian Air Force also has medium and heavy lift helis that not only transport the Prime Minister of the country but also helps in rescue operations during natural disasters.
Here’s a list of all the Indian Air Force helicopters that have served the country like an unsung hero for ages:
Boeing Apache AH-64E
The Attack Helicopter fleet of IAF got a major boost with the induction of Boeing AH-64E Apache helicopters. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has inducted a total of 16 of these machines till date, the latest being eight Apache reaching the Pathankot Air Force Station. By 2020, the IAF will operate a fleet of 22 Apaches, which is known as the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopter. The AH-64 E is known for its greater thrust and lift, joint digital operability, improved survivability, and cognitive decision aiding and is uniquely suited to meet the commander’s needs, including reconnaissance, security, peacekeeping operations, and lethal attack—in both land and littoral environments—all without reconfiguration.
The Boeing-made CH-47F (I) Chinooks for the Indian Air Force will boost the nation’s heavy heli-lift capability. A total of 6 Chinooks of the 15 Chinooks on order have been delivered to India by now. The CH-47 Chinook is an advanced multi-mission helicopter that provides strategic airlift capability across the full spectrum of combat and humanitarian missions. The CH-47F was made for the U.S. Army and international defence forces. It contains a fully integrated, digital cockpit management system, Common Aviation Architecture and advanced cargo-handling capabilities that enhance the aircraft's mission performance and handling characteristics. It is used by the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, National Guard and by the armed forces of more than 19 countries.
Mil MI-17 V5
The Mi-17 V5 is a twin-turbine transport helicopter used by the IAF to transport the Prime Minister of India domestically. It is also used for other transport activities and is an advanced and trusted platform equipped with modern avionics and glass cockpit instrumentation and has state-of-art navigational equipment, weather radar and is NVG-compatible. The MI-17 V5 is a version of the MI-17 family of helicopters made by erstwhile Soviet and now Russian Mil Helicopter Company. The Medium Lift Helicopter is also used to ferry personnel to remote mountain helipads, carrying out SAR (Search and Rescue Operations) and logistic support tasks in the island territories, Siachen Glacier, apart from armed role.
The attack helicopters that used to guard India before the arrival of US-made Apache were the Mil MI-25 and MI-35, Twin engine turboshaft, assault, and anti-armor helicopters that are capable of carrying 8 men assault squad. The Mi-25 was the first Attack Helicopter Squadron of IAF and was raised on 1st Nov 1983. The Mi-35 was inducted in April 1990. The attack helis have four barrel 12.7 mm rotary gun in nose barbette and upto 1500 Kg of external ordnance including Scorpion anti-tank missiles. It has a max cruise speed of 310 km/hr.
Undoubtedly the pride of the Indian Air Force and also the biggest of the lot, the Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter has been used for operations in the mountains of Northern India. The Russian origin Mil-made Twin engine turboshaft is a military heavy-lift helicopter with a carrying capacity of 70 combat troops or 20,000 kg payload. It has a max speed of 295 km/hr.
The Aérospatiale Alouette III is a single-engine, light utility helicopter manufactured in India under license by HAL and is developed by French aircraft company Sud-Aviation. While the HAL Chetak is being gradually replaced by HAL Dhruv, the heli has been used for training, transport, CASEVAC (casualty evacuation), communications and liaison roles. The helicopter can carry 6 passengers or 500 kg load. It has a max speed of 220 km/hr.
The Cheetah is a essentially the Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama French single-engined helicopter made by HAL in India and was developed to meet high altitude operational requirements of the Indian Armed Forces. The Cheetah helicopter fleet has been the backbone in SAR, Casualty Evacuation and RTR (Route Transport Role) role in the IAF. The Cheetah has a capacity to carry 3 passengers or 100 kg external sling loads. It has a max cruise speed of 121 km/hr and can climb to 1 km in 4 minutes.
HAL Dhruv ALH
The Dhruv ALH is a helicopter developed and manufactured by the HAL and entered service in 2002. The indigenous ALH fleet in IAF has steadily grown from conventional ALH Mk-I to state of the art 'Glass' cockpit ALH Mk-III. The helicopter is a twin-engine machine that can carry 14 passengers with two pilots and has a cruise speed of 250 km/hr. It is also used by the Sarang Helicopter Display Team, apart from SAR, Cas Evac, and RTR operations. There's also an attack variant of the HAL Dhruv called HAL Rudra.