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    The aesthetics of helicopter design

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    Daniel_Admassu


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    Post  Daniel_Admassu Sun May 30, 2021 7:08 am

    I just noticed that the posts moved to this thread. It has been a while since I checked the Mi-28 topic. If indeed people are waiting for me to post the first entry here, well you can now.

    This all started when I criticized the exterior aesthetic of the Havoc and the Mi-8 series. In fact it is mostly helicopters in the Russian arsenal I have issues with. I have seen both the early design and recent iteration of the Mi-8 up close, including an early model Hind that GarryB mentioned. Those are not operational now but I guess they correctly reflect the era they were from. My country used to side with the communist block a while back and purchased a lot of stuff from the USSR.

    The issue with the Hip is not just exterior shape but overall craftsmanship in trimming. Mind you, I am not talking about consumer level appeal but rather a design that reveals the type of assembly process it went through, what we call industrial aesthetic. In terms of exterior form as well, this concept calls for a sleek aerodynamic shape for something that flies. This all comes after function of course. My point was that the Russians seem not to care enough to explore what forms function allows. This all might have been redundant in the old world order where their clients buy everything they make and no matter how thoughtful their designs are, the other block will not touch any of it.

    I think we can all agree that the USSR lagged heavily in industrial automation and computing and it shows clearly in the industrial design aesthetic I am talking about. You can only do so many shapes and forms with manual operation. In fact this is why, despite having a vast industry, Russian light helicopters aren't still successful commercially. Light corporate helicopters are what comes close to consumer products in the aviation industry and customers are clearly not interested if it lacks some aesthetic appeal. I know they are now trying with the Ka-60 and Ansat. Those are, in my opinion, a much better effort. We will see where this goes.
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    Post  lancelot Sun May 30, 2021 11:20 am

    The Mi-28 is a utilitarian design. The form follows the function.
    It has a huge block like super structure because it is ballistically reinforced.
    I agree they still could have make it look better though. The Ka-50 had to solve the same issues but is a lot less ugly.
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    Post  lyle6 Mon May 31, 2021 5:32 am

    lancelot wrote:
    It has a huge block like super structure because it is ballistically reinforced.

    Exactly. The lines for the Mi-28 seem "wrong" because they are not just designed strictly to conform to aerodynamics, but to deflect and shatter incoming projectiles. If my car had to survive a shower of bullets as part of its specs, it would have probably looked like that cybertruck trash too.
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    Post  TMA1 Mon May 31, 2021 6:00 am

    Nice. Hat we're your overall impressions of the mi 8? Frankly the reputation seems all over the place. They are rugged and durable and easier to repair. They crash a lot and are buggy. I have heard and read a thousand opinions on it but that might be because there are thousands of them. I love the things. I was fascinated by the fact that Afghanistanis still fly em and prefer them to the Blackhawk. There are many reasons to this obviously which I think speaks good and bad for mi-8/17 and Blackhawk both.

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    Post  kvs Mon May 31, 2021 6:40 am

    TMA1 wrote:Nice. Hat we're your overall impressions of the mi 8? Frankly the reputation seems all over the place. They are rugged and durable and easier to repair. They crash a lot and are buggy. I have heard and read a thousand opinions on it but that might be because there are thousands of them. I love the things. I was fascinated by the fact that Afghanistanis still fly em and prefer them to the Blackhawk. There are many reasons to this obviously which I think speaks good and bad for mi-8/17 and Blackhawk both.

    World wide distribution will result in a "high" crash rate perception and combine that with poor maintenance and abuse. If western equipment was
    treated this way it would disappear after a few years. The whole "inferior" Soviet/Russian tech is inane rubbish. Like the bitching about
    vacuum tubes in some Soviet jets. The USSR was making transistors during the 1960s when the west was. It had ICs in the 1970s and
    1980s just like the west. Deliberate design based on physics is not inferiority. The common theme with Soviet military equipment, that has
    carried over into Russian products, is over-engineering. Not profit driven corner cutting and gratuitous minimization and marginal engineering
    inspired by retarded accountants who think that saving half cents will add up to greater glory. I see this shitty western design philosophy
    rendered via offshored sweatshop production in consumer products on a daily basis. It clearly infects western military production in spite
    of the gross overpricing.

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    Post  Daniel_Admassu Mon May 31, 2021 8:12 am

    The  Mi-8 is also a pretty dependable workhorse in the Ethiopian Air Force, despite not having any substantial number of them (probably 20 or so). As recently as a few months back, they have added more of the Mi-17 variants. Not sure what configuration they are in. Overall only a number of accidents, mostly combat related during the civil war. Otherwise the Airforce training and maintenance academy keeps one of the best teams for the job. At least used to. My uncle used to serve as a reconnaissance officer aboard an Antonov aircraft.

    The high numbers worldwide would inevitably mean higher number of incidents but not necessarily higher rates. That judgment requires an unbiased study that considers human, situational, environmental and technical factors. But overall I have to say good engineering practice that results in optimal performance and reliability also calls for a thorough and methodical manufacturing process that inevitably produces a good industrial aesthetic.

    I have often followed forum threads concerning aircraft such as Su-57 and noticed that some of its detractors point out the panel seam gaps as indicator of inferior manufacturing. I have never seen even a flanker up close and don't even have much insight into radar reflection impacts of such seams. But I can safely say such features are typical of other Soviet products which can only come from less precision in manufacturing or assembly. Even equipment (vehicles, machinery) that I have seen from East Germany produced during the same period had far better polished finish. And those pieces of equipment are regarded highly by their operators to this day. My point is a good engineering practice most of the time also results in better aesthetic as a byproduct if not as a deliberate feature. And customers anywhere, military or otherwise, look for such features as an indicator of the technical robustness inside.

    I know we can always argue about the worldwide sales record of Soviet/Russian military gear as proof. I am not saying Russian gear is in any way less reliable or underperforming, which it is not. But really, what choice does the rest of the world has? Either it was the mostly US expensive western equipment that came with a lot of strings or the cheaper Russian equipment with none of said strings. So African and Asian states made the logical choice. When and if the world gets its next worthy competitor, trust me, Russia will be forced to improve things in this area. China is now making headway to become such a competition by copying western stuff and offering it cheap. The problem with Chinese stuff is that it is still not reliable enough. Ethiopia had tried importing military trucks at some point from China thinking it would further improve political relations. The items in question became maintenance nightmares for logistics departments both in the army and what we call the federal police. Nevertheless Chinese gear is slowly encroaching on traditional Russian turf. So is Turkish stuff. What these have in common is trying to compensate for what they lack in performance with presentation, some of which addresses the industrial aesthetic that I am arguing for here.

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    Post  GarryB Tue Nov 30, 2021 11:38 am

    The problem with aesthetics is everyone has a different opinion.... you can point to a Blackhawk helicopter and claim it is much prettier than a Hip, but what does that even mean? And on what basis are you making that judgement.

    I can remember in the early 1980s thinking Soviet fighter planes were boring... they were all delta winged tubes... the Su-9/11, the MiG-21, the Su-17.... nothing modern and sexy like the F-16 or F-18. Then the MiG-29 and Su-27s were revealed, but it was their improved performance I actually liked and because the older model aircraft became more scarce and got much less media attention I came to enjoy the older types rather more.

    The Mi-28 you say is ugly... well I have seen tests where 14.5mm HMGs are positioned less than 5 metres away from the side of an Mi-28 and rounds are fired directly into the side cockpit window... the tester then runs his hand over the inner surface of the window and it seems there is no penetration at all.

    The enormous side windows on an Apache wont even stop an AK round fired from the ground... pretty is overrated.

    Regarding the Blackhawk... it has huge side doors but the same problem as the Hind... when you are getting on or getting off you want to do that in a hurry so having two side doors is nice, but having a rear ramp door is also very useful too.

    The Hip is also able to operate hot and high while carrying a useful payload, which the Blackhawk could not match, which is why the Hip is the most widely used helicopter on the planet.... even more so when you recognise the Mi-14 and Mi-24/35 are Mi-8/17 variants too.

    Countries don't buy weapons based on how pretty they are, they buy them for political reasons or because of corruption, but never because they look cool.

    Compromising performance to make them look pretty is a serious downgrade.

    Soviet and Russian products are made to a purpose.

    Gaps between surface plates on old model MiG-29s did not effect flight performance because surface air flow was not effected by gaps.

    Needless to say German Panther and Tiger tanks were miracles of engineering and broke down all the time.... they made less than 6,000 Panthers and less than 2,000 Tigers during the war. The T-34 in comparison often left the factory unpainted... but then what colour to paint it... it would likely get painted when it reached its forward unit when it was deployed... they were making more than 10,000 T-34s a year during WWII and only made minor changes so as not to disrupt mass production... the only major change was the 85mm gun with a new turret.
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    Post  Atmosphere Tue Nov 30, 2021 4:57 pm

    Mi-28 is legitimately one of the best looking helos out there, there's something about it's unusual shape... it just looks elegant yet blocky in a good way, it's like a bulky look but that bulk has a well defined identity so to speak. It's just good looking, even in pure aesthetics.

    It's like an AN-94, it is not ugly, but weirdly beautiful.

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    Post  GarryB Wed Dec 01, 2021 7:16 am

    Quite often different is called ugly, but mainly from people who don't understand why it is different... what are the purposes of its difference... and often when that difference actually makes operational sense then it stops looking weird.

    The Mi-28A and Mi-28N have a small thimble antenna that looks like a nose... western helicopters don't have such antenna types and so it looks different.

    But that thimble antenna is a 35GHz radio communication antenna that transmits flight commands to Shturm and Ataka ATGMs which makes them fast because they don't have to trail a wire for command guidance, but also super cheap because there is no IR sensor or radar sensor in the nose to look for a target.

    The replacement missile is Krisantema, which has dual guidance, radar guided in a SARH like guidance setup where a radar scans for targets and tracks them and tracks the outgoing missile and sends guidance commands to the missile to manouver to hit the target, and also laser beam riding guidance.

    Laser beam riding guidance is cheap and simple but can be effected by heavy rain or snow or other atmospheric conditions like a sand or dust storm... the radar guidance option works in any conditions.

    The problem of course is that the Mi28N doesn't have a radar so to operate Krisantema it needs a radar pod which takes up a pylon space.

    I am hoping the new Mi-28NM can use its mast mounted radar and therefore guide the missile even while remaining behind cover.
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    Post  Daniel_Admassu Wed Dec 01, 2021 4:53 pm

    Actually in my opinion the Mi-28 has an overall shape and form factor that looks rather appealing for its purpose. In fact it is more similar to the AH-64  than other attack helicopters. If I am correct it was even designed as a response to the Apache and might even have been inspired by it. Some people are going to hate me for saying this.

    And yes,  I find the nose antenna design rather ugly. And they have modified it on the NM. I am not sure if that has technical reasons or was just to improve its looks. If it was the latter, I would say it is not much of an improvement. On the other hand, I think the Mi-8 is totally hideous.

    But by industrial/functional aesthetic what I meant was something that was designed with its purpose in focus, but also its visual appeal in mind. Obviously a vehicle would be designed to look different than an aircraft. There is no sense in asking which one looks better. And obviously the level of aesthetic requirement differs for various sectors. But it is wrong to assume that just because something is a military equipment, it totally has no requirement for visual appeal. It might not be as important as for commercial aircraft, but it is definitely considered.

    But the concept of aesthetics is not limited to shapes or outer looks. The harmony between different parts, the impression of the intended function, modularity, ease of use and such things are also part of it. I am an engineer and have worked in the telecoms sector for quite some time. Usually the kind of things we work with are backend exchange, power and transmission equipment that remain out of view for most of their working lives. But manufacturers pay an incredible amount of attention to detail in their outer designs. And you can tell by the finess of its outer looks the technical robustness of an equipment. Part of the reason may be that the customer subconsciously understands that such levels of design detail can only come from a vendor with a similar level of technical competence. This, imo, is also true in military aviation.

    I have recently seen Russia make more effort in its military gear design. If we consider transport helicopters, look no further than the Mi-38. Doesn't anyone notice something different? Or have they sacrificed any performance to come up with the new looks?

    And it is not just aviation. Look at it's new Gorshkov class frigates or the Buyan-M or Karakurt corvettes. As soon as Russia has satisfied its domestic needs, it would very much like to market these abroad. And it doesn't hurt if they compete well with their looks as well. The new Typhoon class APCs are another example.

    By the way doesn't the Mi-28NM already has a nose mounted radar, just below the 'timble' antenna?
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    Post  GarryB Thu Dec 02, 2021 1:19 am

    And yes,  I find the nose antenna design rather ugly. And they have modified it on the NM. I am not sure if that has technical reasons or was just to improve its looks. If it was the latter, I would say it is not much of an improvement. On the other hand, I think the Mi-8 is totally hideous.

    No the nose thimble antenna was not removed for aesthetics... it has been made redundant with laser beam riding versions of Ataka... for the same reason the BMPT does not need one either.

    OK you don't like the looks of the Mi-8... I don't think they care. Certainly the Afgans prefer the Mi-8 that works to the pretty Blackhawk that doesn't.

    It is a 60 year old helicopter that holds the world record for numbers produced... pretty damn good for an ugly aircraft...

    But it is wrong to assume that just because something is a military equipment, it totally has no requirement for visual appeal

    Pretty sure as long as it does what it is designed to do that looks don't come in to it at all, and if it does look amazing that this wont help it much if it is useless... I am of course talking about the Russian and Soviet military, not the west.

    Part of the reason may be that the customer subconsciously understands that such levels of design detail can only come from a vendor with a similar level of technical competence. This, imo, is also true in military aviation.


    I think you are confusing a few things here.... modularity and order and structure are nothing to do with aesthetics.

    Case in point would be the AA-1 Alkali compared with the AA-2 Atoll.

    The AA-1 was incredibly complex and had electronics and engines and seekers and servos all over the place...

    If you just look at the drawings for it:
    The aesthetics of helicopter design  - Page 2 K5_10

    You can see the rocket motor exhaust between two of the rear fins, the rear facing datalink for communicating with the launch aircraft, and inside it was a rabbit warren of wires and components. When they captured the Sidewinder it wasn't that the Sidewinder was more advanced, the IR seeker on the Russian missile was actually better and so they kept that for their AA-2 Sidewinder copy, and their rocket motor was better too so they kept that as well, but the real different was the modularity of the Sidewinder... you could build each piece separately and assemble it for use. If one part failed you could remove it and swap it out. or in their case with SARH versions, they could change seeker element if they need more radar or IR guided models very easily, or to upgrade a missile with a more powerful rocket motor or new more capable sensor.

    Of course the change in design paradigm would take years to introduce and apply and rather than wait for new Soviet modular missiles to be designed and tested they copied the missile to begin with and made the necessary changes in their missile design bureaus.

    The best example of a modular air to air missile would have to be the R-27 family, which is enormous.

    I have recently seen Russia make more effort in its military gear design. If we consider transport helicopters, look no further than the Mi-38. Doesn't anyone notice something different? Or have they sacrificed any performance to come up with the new looks?

    Design has as much to do with fashion as anything else... the Mi-8 was designed 60 years ago and is the most popular transport helicopter in the world...

    The Mi-38 doesn't look a whole lot different to be honest.


    By the way doesn't the Mi-28NM already has a nose mounted radar, just below the 'timble' antenna?

    No. The Hokum has a nose mounted radar, the Mi-28NM has a mast mounted radar.

    The aesthetics of helicopter design  - Page 2 Gettyi10

    The area above the green ball turret for the pilot is the rotation mechanism and below that is the large black drum optics for the long range optics for the gunner.
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    Post  Daniel_Admassu Thu Dec 02, 2021 4:09 am

    GarryB wrote:
    It is a 60 year old helicopter that holds the world record for numbers produced... pretty damn good for an ugly aircraft...

    Pretty sure as long as it does what it is designed to do that looks don't come in to it at all, and if it does look amazing that this wont help it much if it is useless... I am of course talking about the Russian and Soviet military, not the west.
    .......

    GarryB wrote:
    Design has as much to do with fashion as anything else... the Mi-8 was designed 60 years ago and is the most popular transport helicopter in the world...

    Wouldn't you say those two statements are a contradiction? If as you say aesthetics has no role in the design of say, a military transport, why would Mil design a new look for the Mi-38 at all? Introducing new engines, rotor or avionics is fine. But if all what customers, say the Afghan Air Force, care about is its performance, and are absolutely oblivious of its looks, why change the fuselage at all? Why in fact bother with a sense of 'fashion', to use your own words?

    GarryB wrote:
    The Mi-38 doesn't look a whole lot different to be honest.

    The aesthetics of helicopter design  - Page 2 Mi-8-110
    The aesthetics of helicopter design  - Page 2 Mi-38-10

    Really?

    GarryB wrote:
    The area above the green ball turret for the pilot is the rotation mechanism and below that is the large black drum optics for the long range optics for the gunner.

    I have confused the lower optical turret with a radar. It has been a while since I read about the NM. How was the Ataka missile guided by the pilots to issue the radio commands? Visual tracking by the optics?
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    Post  GarryB Fri Dec 03, 2021 4:23 am


    Wouldn't you say those two statements are a contradiction?

    Not at all... when it was designed that is what helicopters looked like, and being the most produced helicopter design in the world it really set the standard.

    If as you say aesthetics has no role in the design of say, a military transport, why would Mil design a new look for the Mi-38 at all?

    When building a new design most designers never start with the previous model and make it look the same.

    The Mi-38 looks a little different because human visibility through windows is now less important that electronics like radar which replaces any of the lower nose mounted windows... but you already knew that because that was also applied to later model Hips too.

    A late model Hip with a nose mounted weather radar and a ramp rear door instead of the old clamshells actually not that much different from the Mi-38... the main and tail rotor arrangement is the same as it everything else except the location of the engines.. which hardly makes any visible difference at all.

    The aesthetics of helicopter design  - Page 2 D0b0d110

    But if all what customers, say the Afghan Air Force, care about is its performance, and are absolutely oblivious of its looks, why change the fuselage at all? Why in fact bother with a sense of 'fashion', to use your own words?

    Improvements in materials and construction and also aerodynamics... the Mi-38 is designed to operate at higher flight speeds and higher altitudes, so of course the design is going to be slightly different.... but not radically so.

    How was the Ataka missile guided by the pilots to issue the radio commands? Visual tracking by the optics?

    On the older Hind I believe the TV optics port was used to find and track the target while the radio command guidance system automatically sent flight course corrections to the missile to get it back in line with the crosshair... a bit like SACLOS for wire guided missiles but with the wire replaced with a radio command transmitter.

    If you look at this image:

    The aesthetics of helicopter design  - Page 2 D60bdb10
    From left to right under the nose of the helicopter (an early Hind D with the 12.7mm gatling gun turret), the optical port with double armoured doors... the outer set opened to reveal an inner set of armoured glass doors which could also be opened for the best view outside the range of small arms fire, then a fold down light used for lighting up the ground when landing or flying very low and then the radio command pod for Shturm or Ataka... this one has a black front and is the same as the thimble system in the nose of the Mi-28M and UB. On older Hinds is a similar radio command pod often with a white or gray fairing used for the older AT-2 Falanga command guided ATGMs.

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