The Kamov Ka-50 "Black Shark" (Russian: Чёрная акула; Chornaya Akula, NATO reporting name: Hokum A) is a single-seat Russian attack helicopter with the distinctive coaxial rotor system of the Kamov design bureau. It was designed in the 1980s and adopted for service in the Russian army in 1995. It is manufactured by the Progress company in Arsenyev. It is being used as a heavily armed scout helicopter.
During the late 1990s, Kamov and Israel Aerospace Industries developed a tandem-seat cockpit version, the Kamov Ka-50-2 "Erdogan", to compete in Turkey's attack helicopter competition. Kamov also designed another two-seat variant, the Kamov Ka-52 "Alligator" (Russian: Аллигатор, NATO reporting name: Hokum B).
The Ka-50 is the production version of the V-80Sh-1 prototype. Production of the attack helicopter was ordered by the Soviet Council of Ministers on 14 December 1987. Development of the helicopter was first reported in the West in 1984. The first photograph appeared in 1989. During operational testing from 1985 to 1986, the workload on the pilot was found to be similar to that of a fighter-bomber pilot, such that the pilot could perform both flying and navigation duties.
Like other Kamov helicopters, it features Kamov's characteristic contra-rotating co-axial rotor system, which removes the need for the entire tail rotor assembly and improves the aircraft's aerobatic qualities—it can perform loops, rolls and "the funnel" (circle-strafing), where the aircraft maintains a line-of-sight to the target while flying circles of varying altitude, elevation and airspeed around it. The omission of the tail rotor is a qualitative advantage, because the torque-countering tail rotor can use up to 30% of engine power. The Ka-50's entire transmission presents a comparatively small target to ground fire.
Kamov Ka-50 "Black Shark" on display
Following initial flight testing and system tests the Council ordered the first batch of helicopters in 1990. The attack helicopter was first described publicly as the "Ka-50" in March 1992 at a symposium in the United Kingdom. The helicopter was publicly unveiled at the Mosaeroshow '92 at Zhukovskiy in August 1992. The following month, the second production example made its foreign debut at the Farnborough Airshow, where it was displayed with an image of a werewolf on its rudder—gaining the popular nickname "Werewolf". The fifth prototype gave the Ka-50 a particularly enduring designation. Painted black for its starring role in the movie Чёрная акула (Black Shark), the helicopter has been known by that nickname ever since. In November 1993, four production helicopters were flown to the Army Aviation Combat Training Centre at Torzhok to begin field trials. The president of the Russian Federation authorized the fielding of the Ka-50 with the Russian Army on 28 August 1995. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a severe drop in defense procurement. This resulted in a mere dozen Ka-50s delivered, instead of the planned several hundred to replace the Mil Mi-24.
The single-seat configuration was considered undesirable by NATO. The first two Ka-50 prototypes had false windows painted on them. The "windows" evidently worked, as the first western reports of the aircraft were wildly inaccurate, to the point of some analysts even concluding its primary mission was as an air superiority aircraft for hunting and killing NATO attack helicopters. For improved pilot survivability the Ka-50 is fitted with a NPP Zvezda (transl. Star) K-37-800 ejection seat, which is a rare feature for a helicopter. Before the rocket in the ejection seat deploys, the rotor blades are blown away by explosive charges in the rotor disc and the canopy is jettisoned.
The Ka-50 and its modifications have been chosen as the special forces' support helicopter, while the Mil Mi-28 has become the main army's gunship. The production of Ka-50 was recommenced in 2006. In 2009, the Russian Air Force received three units, built from incomplete airframes dating from the mid-1990s.
Ka-50N and Ka-50Sh
From the time the Ka-50 was ordered in 1987 it was known that the limited night-time capability of the original Ka-50 version would have to be upgraded to meet night attack requirements. Initially, Ka-50N was to have been fitted with the Merkury Low-Light TV (LLTV) system. Due to a lack of funding, the system was late and experienced reliability and capability issues. As a result, focus shifted to forward looking infrared (FLIR) systems. Kamov drafted a design in 1993 that included the Shkval-N sighting system with an infrared sensor. Many versions were tried; on some the original "Shkval" was supplemented by a thermal imaging system, while others saw a complete replacement by the "Samshit" day-and-night system (also used on Ka-52). Some of the imagers included in the trials were manufactured by the French SAGEM and Thomson companies. Kamov was forced to consider foreign analogues as a temporary replacement for domestic imaging systems because of their slow development.
Trials led to two "final" versions: Ka-50N ("Nochnoy/Night") and Ka-50Sh ("Shar/Sphere", because of the spherical FLIR turret). The first Ka-50Sh was the 8th pre-production aircraft, Bort 018; it first flew on 4 March 1997. The Kamov company and Black Shark logos were displayed on the endplate fins and the vertical tail. It featured the Samshit-50 system installed within a 640 mm (25 in) diameter sphere under the nose. Shkval system was moved to the nose cone area. Neither of the Ka-50 night attack versions have entered full production.
Ka-52 "061", Zhukovski, 2009
In the early 1980s, while comparative tests of the V-80 (Ka-50 prototype) and the Mi-28 were being conducted, the Kamov design team came up with a proposal to develop a dedicated helicopter to conduct battlefield reconnaissance, provide target designation, support and co-ordinate group attack helicopter operations. However, the economic hardships that hit the nation in the late 1980s hampered this new development program. This prompted Kamov's Designer General to choose a modified version of Ka-50 on which to install the reconnaissance and target designation system. The modified "Black Shark" required a second crew member to operate the optronics/radar reconnaissance suite. Kamov decided to use side-by-side seating arrangement, due to the verified improvements in co-operation between the crew members. This twin-seat version was designated Ka-52.
Serial Ka-52 at Torzhok Air Base
In comparison to the original Ka-50, it has a "softer" nose profile and a radar system with two antennas—mast-mounted for aerial targets and nose-mounted for ground targets. "Samshit" day-and-night TV/thermal sighting system in two spherical turrets (one over the cockpit and the second under the nose) are also fitted. The Ka-52 has the side-mounted cannon of the original Ka-50. It features six wing-mounted hardpoints compared to four on the Ka-50. To keep the weight and performance on par with that of the Ka-50, some sacrifices were made to the design; the amount of armour and the capacity of the cannon magazine/feed were reduced. Also some flight parameters deteriorated; rate of climb is 8 m/s (vs. 10 m/s), maximum positive load factor is 3.0 g. Most of the problems were solved by installing the new VK-2500 engine. The Ka-52 is approved for day, night and adverse weather conditions.
Manufacturing of the first Ka-52 airframe began in mid-1996. Series production was started in autumn 2008. The 696th Instructor and Research Helicopter Regiment, based at Torzhok Air Base, is operating eight helicopters, in varying degrees of capability and/or modification, for research and development. In December 2010, four new, series-production Kamov Ka-52s were delivered to the Air Base of the 344th Centre for Combat Training and Aircrew Conversion.
Russian Air Force Kamov Ka-52 cockpit