End of an era – last flight of Czech Mi-2

On 2nd February 2023, the last airworthy Mil Mi-2 helicopter in the Czech Republic (c/n 5110711088, ´0711´ of the CLV Pardubice) performed its final flight at Pardubice airfield. During the event, the already historical rotorcraft was accompanied by Mi-17 and Enstrom 480B.

Fifty-one years ago, in September of 1972, the first Mi-2 (NATO reporting name Hoplite) helicopters were delivered to then Czechoslovakia. They were intended for Letecký oddíl Ministerstva vnitra (English: Aviation unit of the Ministry of the Interior), or more precisely for the police forces. Shortly after, two Mi-2 rotorcraft were assigned to Slov-Air, state-owned aviation services company. More helicopters of that type were then acquired in the 1980s, by both the Czechoslovak armed forces and air ambulance services.

In 1981, the Czechoslovak armed forced took over the first Mi-2 helicopter from the Ministry of Interior. It was followed by delivery of forty-four new rotorcraft of that type, purchased by the Ministry of Defence between 1982 and 1988. In addition, the military received ten more Mi-2s from the police forces. All Hoplites operated by the Czechoslovak armed forces were used for transport and liaison duties, therefore flew without any armament.

In 1993, after dissolution of Czechoslovakia, seventeen Mi-2 helicopters were assigned to Slovakia. The remaining military Czech rotorcraft of that type were still used during the 1990s, but their number was being consistently reduced. It was the same with civil operators of Mi-2 helicopters and finally, since the 2010s, Centrum leteckého výcviku (Flight Training Centre – CLV) in Pardubice became the only operator of the Mi-2 helicopters in the Czech Republic, with six rotorcraft of that type in its inventory (0709, 0711, 0713, 0718, 9427 and 9428).

Mi-2 ´0711´ – flying display at the 30th Aviation Fair Pardubice

Nevertheless, also the CLV was quickly reducing the number of its airworthy and operational Mi-2 helicopters. The first two were withdrawn from active service in 2016, another two yet in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Finally, the last remaining Hoplites of the CLV, still used for training new rotorcraft pilots, were retired in 2018 and succeeded by Enstrom 480B helicopters.

The last two airworthy Mi-2 in the Czech Republic were ´0709´ and ´0711´. The first of them was preserved as a gate guard at the CLV seat, within the area of Pardubice military airport.  The latter, although withdrawn from active service, was kept airworthy beyond 2018 and used for CLV marketing purposes during air shows and other aviation events.

However, increasing maintenance costs and difficulties in obtaining spare parts, together with general economic situation of the post-pandemic world, made the CLV authorities to cease the airworthy status of the last flying Mi-2 in the Czech Republic. That decision was officially announced in 2022.

The general public had the last opportunity to see ´0711´ in flight during the 30th edition of Aviation Fair air show, in May of 2022. At that event, the last airworthy Mi-2 performed two flying shows and was also available at the static display.

After its last flight on 2nd February 2023 and the official farewell with the Mi-2 at the CLV in Pardubice, ´0711´ will be intended for static display purposes and exhibited in one of the European aviation museums.

The helicopter ´0711´ was manufactured in 1988 by Polish aviation company PZL Świdnik. It was initially delivered as Mi-2Sz (or Mi-2U) training variant with doubled control equipment. Until 1996 – the end of its initial service life – the rotorcraft was operated by Czechoslovak and then Czech air forces. After the general repair, ´0711´ was assigned to Pardubice airfield and later taken over by the CLV.

Mi-2 ´0711´ and Enstrom 480B of the CLV

In 2017, LOM Praha – the parent company of the CLV – decided to replace its Mi-2 fleet with modern training helicopters. Enstrom 480B was chosen as the successor and sales contract was concluded in September of the same year. The first rotorcraft of that type was delivered in the beginning of 2018 and for the first time presented to general public in May, during Helicopter Show in Hradec Králové.

The Mil Mi-2 was developed during the early 1960s in the Soviet Union. The rotorcraft performed its maiden flight on 22nd September 1961 and was introduced into operational service in 1965.

The aforementioned PZL Świdnik aviation plant was the main manufacturer of the Mi-2. Between 1966 and 1985, approximately 5,500 examples of the rotorcraft were produced there, in approximately twenty variants. In a short time, the Mi-2 became the most popular light helicopter among the Eastern Bloc countries and was also purchased by military and civilian operators from all over the world.

The rotorcraft was used for a variety of military and civilian purposes, and could be seen in almost every place throughout the world. It quickly became recognized by popular culture as one of the icons of the Eastern Bloc aviation. During the decades of its operational service, the Mi-2 received several nicknames, many of them related to its characteristic shape – ´Czajnik´ in Poland (English: teapot); ´Конёк-Горбунок´ (English: The Humpbacked Horse, character from a popular fairy tale) or ´Головастик´ (English: tadpole) in the Soviet Union/Russia.

Currently, there are still several airworthy examples of the Mi-2 around the world. Most of them are used by private operators, although some Hoplites are still in active military service in Poland, Russia and Belarus. Almost fifty Mi-2 are reportedly still being used by the North Korean Air Force.

CLV helicopters on apron of Pardubice airfield (2014)