Mil Mi-24V (for export purposes also designed as Mi-35) 7353 ´Night Tiger´ of Czech Air Force, performing the flying display at Slovak International Air Fest (SIAF), September 2012.
The operational service of Mi-24 attack helicopters in then Czechoslovakia began in 1978, when the first Mi-24D helicopters entered service in 51st Helicopter Regiment in Prostějov. Finally, the Czechoslovak People´s Army acquired 28 Mi-24D until 1982 and then, between 1985 and 1989, additional 31 rotorcraft of modernized Mi-24V variant and two Mi-24DU training helicopters.
At dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the newly established Czech country received a share of 16 Mi-24D, 20 Mi-24V and one Mi-24DU. Starting from 2003, they were successively retired and finally were replaced by 17 new helicopters received from Russia. Those new helicopters were received under the repayment agreement, settling the Russian debt that originated in the Soviet Union era. The first batch of seven Mi-24V arrived in 2003 and ten more rotorcraft were delivered in 2005/2006. All seventeen Mi-24Vs were, since 1st October 2008, assigned to 221st Helicopter Squadron, based at Náměšť nad Oslavou.
A helicopter with tactical number ´7353´ was delivered in January 2003, together with two other Mi-24Vs (7354 and 7355) and initially was painted in the standard green-gray camouflage pattern. This helicopter was initially assigned to 231st Helicopter Squadron in Přerov.
An interesting ´Night Tiger´ livery was born before the 41st NATO Tiger Meet in 2005. The livery designed by J. Havranek was painted in April and shortly after, ´7353´, together with other Czech Mi-24 and Mi-17 helicopters, participated in Tiger Meet held by Turkish air force base in Balikesir – receiving the Tiger Trophy for ´Best Painted Tiger Aircraft´.
In the following years, the ´Night Tiger´ was not only participating in Tiger Meets, but also was often presented during static and dynamic displays at the aviation events in Czech Republic, Slovakia and other countries. The last official flight of ´7353´ in the tiger livery was reported in 2015 and at the end of the year this Mi-24V was sent to LOM Praha for the general repair.
The repair was finished in August 2017 and ´7353´ returned to active service, with its life span extended for another 7 years and 1,000 flying hours. However, the already famous ´Night Tiger´ was gone forever, and the helicopter again received the standard Czech camouflage pattern.
Regrettably, the operational service of ´7353´ was not without accidents. The first of them occurred in 2010, during the exercise Flying Rhino. Due to failure of the hydraulic system the crew had to perform an emergency landing, thankfully no one was injured, and the helicopter returned to service shortly after.
The second accident was reported in June 2019, with another emergency landing, this time during training performed at Libava training ground. Fortunately, the crew of five was just slightly injured, but ´7353´ was significantly damaged. An unofficial press releases reported that this damage is nearly beyond repair and the future of former ´Night Tiger´ is uncertain. The Czech Air Force is now proceeding with buying AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom helicopters that are intended to replace the Russian-manufactured helicopters. In this context, any expensive repair of Mi-24 seems unlikely.