Its development was due to the necessity for a lighter but capable of carrying more heavy cargo. It replaced the Mi-6 and Mi-12. Its primary role was lifting APC's and portable ballistic missiles.
Its first flight was on December 14, 1977. Its full production was in 1980. It first served the Soviet military then for commercial usage.
The Mil Mi 26 was the first helicopter to have eight rotors so it could still fly in case of an engine failure. It can lift up to 20 tons. It is the second heaviest helicopter after the V-12.