When most Americans with technical knowledge about helicopters think of Russian choppers, chances are, they think of the Mil Mi-24 “Hind” helicopter gunship. This is mostly thanks to classic 1980s action films like Rambo III and Red Dawn.
If you’re a longtime fan of Ken Follett, perhaps you first learned about the Hind via the bestselling 1986 novel Lie Down with Lions, which takes place in Afghanistan in the early 1980s. In a particularly exciting action sequence, the protagonist, CIA operative Ellis Thaler — himself a former chopper pilot during the Vietnam War — remarks that the Mi-24 is “built tougher than a g*ddamn Huey.”
Having said all that, let’s separate the facts from the fiction about this venerable Russian gunship.
Mi-24 Hind History and Specifications
The Mil Mi-24 made her maiden flight — in prototype form — on Sept. 15, 1969, and was officially introduced into operational service with the Soviet armed forces in 1972. The Bolshevik whirlybird started life as a troop transport — a direct descendant of the Mi-8 “Hip”. But the Soviets, drawing lessons from American demonstrations of the effectiveness of helicopter gunships in Vietnam, reconfigured the aircraft as a gunship starting with the Hind-D variant. She was manufactured by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, which in turn is a subsidiary of the Russian Helicopters (Вертолёты России/Vertolyoty Rossii) joint-stock company.
Specifications for the Mi-24 include a fuselage of 57 feet 5 inches, a wingspan — as in the stub wings — of 21 feet 4 inches, a height of 21 feet 4 inches, a main rotor diameter of 56 feet 9 inches, an empty weight of 18,739 pounds, and a max takeoff weight of 26,455 lbs.
Max airspeed is 181 knots, with a range of 240 nautical miles and a service ceiling of 16,100 feet. The warbird fairly bristles with armament: flexible 12.7mm Yak-B Gatling gun, fixed twin-barrel GSh-30K or GSh-23L autocannon (depending on the variant of the chopper), 1,500 kilograms-worth of iron bombs or fuel-air bombs on external stores — spread out between inner and outer hardpoints and wingtip pylons — UB-16 S-5 and UB-32 S-5 rocket launchers, S-24 240mm rockets, and the 9K114 Shturm anti-tank missile. Mind you, even that is not an exhaustive list of the weapon options at the Hind’s disposal.
The Mi-24 has a crew of two or three: pilot, weapons system officer, and optionally a technician.
At last count, 2,648 airframes have been produced, spread out among 58 countries beside Russia: Angola, Belarus, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, and Djibouti serve as just a few examples, which means this chopper is not going away anytime soon.
Combat-Proven, Again and Again
Though the Hind first gained worldwide notoriety during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, the warbird actually saw her first combat usage in a far more obscure conflict, that being the Ogaden War of 1977-1978. During this conflict, Ethiopian forces effectively used the chopper in a combined arms assault that enabled their ultimate victory against Somalia.
During the Soviet-Afghan War, the Soviet occupiers used the Hind to devastating effect. The chopper earned the sobriquet of Shaitan-Arba (Satan’s Chariot) from the mujahedeen rebels. However, Mi-24 crews also incurred some grievous losses, especially once the rebels started receiving deliveries of CIA-supplied Stinger man-portable air defense systems and other weaponry.
Another particularly infamous demonstration of the Hind’s effectiveness took place in Iraq, in March 1991, when Saddam Hussein used these gunships to brutally squelch a rebellion by Kurds and Shiite Muslims in the northern and southern parts of Iraq, respectively. Fast forward to 2014, and the post-Saddam era Iraqi Armed Forces used the Hind for their anti-ISIS campaign.
If my counting skills are correct, the Mi-24 has participated in a total of 34 armed conflicts around the globe. (Dear readers, please let us know in the Comments section if my math is off-kilter.)
Hinds Over Ukraine
During Vladmir Putin’s ongoing and seemingly interminable “special military operation” in Ukraine, the primacy of Russian assault helicopter ops have been carried out by newer models such as the Mi-28 “Havoc” and Ka-52 “Alligator,” but that doesn’t mean the Hind has been put out to pasture just yet. Russian and Ukrainian forces have used the Mi-24 in the conflict, and both countries’ Hind crews have taken casualties in the process.
If official Russian Defense Ministry reports are to be believed for once, it’s been the Ukrainians who have made the most effective use of the Hind in the conflict, as on April 1, 2022 — mere coincidence about April Fool’s Day — two Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters allegedly entered Russian airspace “at an extremely low altitude” and attacked a petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) facility on the outskirts of the city of Belgorod.
With no end to the conflict in sight, the Hind will continue to tally up a grim butcher’s bill, in terms of killing and being killed alike.
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports. If you’d like to pick his brain in-person about his writings, chances are you’ll be able to find him at the Green Turtle Pasadena in Maryland on Friday nights, singing his favorite karaoke tunes.