The Kamov Ka-50 "Black Shark" 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 currently manufactured by the Progress company in Arsenyev.
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".
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. 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 instead of the planned several hundred being delivered, meaning that there was still no proper replacement for the Mi-24.
The Ka-50 was designed to be small, fast and agile to improve survivability and lethality. For minimal weight and size (thus maximum speed and agility) it was – uniquely among gunships–to be operated by a single pilot only. Kamov concluded after thorough research of helicopter combat in Afghanistan and other war zones that the typical attack mission phases of low-level approach, pop-up target acquisition and weapon launch do not simultaneously demand navigation, maneuvering and weapons operation of the pilot; and thus with well-designed support automation a single pilot can carry out the entire mission alone. During operational testing in the 1985–86, the workload on the pilot was similar to a fighter-bomber pilot, and 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. Using two rotors means that a smaller rotor with slower-moving rotor tips can be used compared to a single-rotor design. Since the speed of the advancing rotor tip is a primary limitation to the maximum speed of a helicopter, this allows a faster maximum speed than helicopters such as the AH-64. The elimination of the tail rotor is a qualitative advantage because the torque-countering tail rotor can use up to 30% of engine power. Furthermore, the vulnerable boom and rear gearbox are fairly common causes of helicopter losses in combat; the Black Shark's entire transmission presents a comparatively small target to ground fire.
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. For improved pilot survivability the Ka-50 is fitted with a NPP Zvezda 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, Russian Air Force received three examples, built from incomplete airframes that dated back to mid-1990s.
The aircraft carries a substantial load of weapons in four external hardpoints under the stub wings plus two on the wingtips, a total of some 2,000 kg depending on the mix.
The main armament are the twelve laser-guided Vikhr anti-tank missiles with a maximum range of some 8 km. The laser guidance is reported to be virtually jam-proof and the system features automatic guidance to target, enabling evasive action immediately after missile launch. The fire control system automatically shares all target information among the four Black Sharks of a typical flight in real time, allowing one helicopter to engage a target spotted by another, and the system can also input target information from ground-based forward scouts with personnel-carried target designation gear. The Ka-50 can also carry several rocket pods, which include the S-13 and S-8 rockets. The "dumb" rocket pods could be upgraded to laser guided with the proposed Ugroza system. The integrated 30 mm cannon is semi-rigidly fixed on the helicopter's side, movable only slightly in elevation and azimuth. The semi-rigid mounting improves the cannon's accuracy, giving the 30 mm a longer practical range and better hit ratio at medium ranges than with a free-turning turret mount.
Crew: One (for Ka-52: two)
Length: 16.0 m (52 ft 6 in)
Rotor diameter: 14.5 m (47 ft 7 in)
Height: 4.93 m (16 ft 2 in)
Disc area: 330.3 m² (3,555 ft²)
Empty weight: 7,700 kg (17,000 lb)
Loaded weight: 9,800 kg (21,600 lb)
Max. takeoff weight: 10,800 kg (23,810 lb)
Powerplant: 2 × Klimov TV3-117VK turboshafts, 1,641 kW (2,200 shp) each
Loaded weight: 10,400 kg (22,930 lb)
Never exceed speed: 350 km/h (189 knots, 217 mph) in dive
Maximum speed: 315 km/h (170 knots, 196 mph) in level flight
Cruise speed: 270 km/h (146 knots, 168 mph)
Range: 545 km (339 miles)
Ferry range: 1,160 km (720 mi) with 4 drop tanks
Service ceiling: 5,500 m (18,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 10 m/s (32.8 ft/s)
Disc loading: 30 kg/m² (6 lb/ft²)
Power/mass: 0.33 kW/kg (0.20 hp/lb)
1x mobile semi-rigid 30 mm Shipunov 2A42 cannon (460 rounds total, dual feeding AP or HE-Frag)
A variety of payloads on the four under-wing hardpoints, including 23 mm UPK-23-250 gun pods (240 rounds each), 2 x APU-6 Missle racks, able to accommodate a total of 12 9K121 Vikhr anti-tank missiles, Vympel R-73 (NATO: AA-11 Archer) air-to-air missiles, 80 x 80 mm S-8 rockets and 20 x 122 mm S-13 rocket, Kh-25 semi-active laser guided tactical air-to-ground missiles, presumably S-25/S-25L high caliber rockets, 4x 250 kg (550 lb) bombs or 2x 500 kg (1,100 lb) bombs, 500 L (130 US gal) external fuel tanks. Reportedly, twin Igla light air-to-air missile launchers under each wingtip countermeasure pod (total 4 missiles). Maximum total payload 2,000 kg.
Two pods on the wingtips with flare and chaff countermeasure dispensers, 4 UV-26 dispensers each (total 512 chaff/flare cartridges in each pod)