The Chinese military has been working on developing new and more advanced military choppers after successfully establishing a family of military choppers in the last few decades, including the Z-20 helicopter which has been projected as the cornerstone of its air power.
China’s leading helicopter manufacturers announced that an all-new type of helicopter with an innovative design has successfully completed its maiden flight.
The prototype of this chopper will lead to the development of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s next-generation, high-performance helicopter, Global Times reported.
According to analysts, the new helicopter could have a higher speed, better stealth capabilities, or a larger takeoff weight than most current helicopters in its inventory.
The Changhe Aircraft Industry (Group) Corporation Ltd and the China Helicopter Research and Development Institute, both subsidiaries of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), launched a self-funded project to break the limits of conventional aerodynamic design, improve performance and combat capabilities, push forward technological innovations, and optimize industrial development modes in Jingdezhen, East China’s Jiangxi Province.
The institution claimed in a news release on its WeChat account recently that the project was examined in March 2022 during a routine joint work meeting held by the two companies. According to the press statement, the new helicopter completed its first flight successfully and is now performing additional test flights to ensure its performance.
This development comes shortly after China had hinted that it was also developing an enhanced variant of the Z-20 helicopters.
Often referred to as a clone of the American Black Hawk chopper, the Z-20 is apparently going through various upgrades to allow the helicopter to perform multiple missions. The manufacturer’s priority is an assault variant of this iconic helicopter.
China’s Helicopters Of The Future
Since the 1950s, China has manufactured around 60 different types of helicopters based on 12 different platforms. Xu Jianhua, head of the China Helicopter Research and Development Institute had told the Global Times on the sidelines of a future helicopter design tournament, 2021.
According to the press release, the prototype will lay a solid foundation for the PLA’s future development of a next-generation, high-performance helicopter. It stated that the two AVIC subsidiaries have solved many technical issues ahead of schedule as a result of the project and that it is promoting the approval of a national project for the new helicopter’s continued development.
The authorities divulged no additional information about the new aircraft, such as how it differs from conventional helicopters in design or its planned missions, and whether it is an attack helicopter, a reconnaissance helicopter, or a transport helicopter.
LOOK: This is China's "Great White Shark" military helicopter, unveiled at the China Helicopter Exposition in Tianjin. It is still in the prototype stage pic.twitter.com/X0fwF1D3bI
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) October 16, 2019
However, at the time of the Helicopter design tournament held last year, some Chinese analysts had spelled out the potential features of the future aircraft. Deng Jinghui, the chief designer at the Helicopter Research and Development Institute had said that the future helicopter could include AI, the Internet of Things, 5G connectivity, new energy, and new materials.
Situational awareness enhancement, decision-making assistance, intelligent pilot-helicopter interaction, smart cockpits, autopilots, boundary protection, noise-reducing smart rotor adjustments, and smart landing gears are just a few examples of where AI could be used.
China currently lacks both a heavy assault helicopter (the Z-10 attack helicopter is only medium weight) and a domestically manufactured heavy transport helicopter (one is still being jointly developed with Russia), according to observers.
It’s difficult to anticipate the capabilities of the new helicopter right now because it’ll have a completely new aerodynamic design, according to the expert, who also noted that because the project is self-funded and the aircraft is still a prototype, it’ll take some time for it to mature.
Helicopters of the West
The Defiant X compound rigid-coaxial rotors helicopter, created jointly by US companies Sikorsky and Boeing, is a good example of how the US and Europe are progressing in their high-speed helicopter projects. This chopper is said to be capable of flying at speeds of over 400 kilometers per hour, much exceeding current models.
Further, the US Army is currently evaluating, testing, and debating two different helicopter programs for the future. The Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) is the first, while the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft is the second (FLRAA). The FLRAA is expected to quadruple the current UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter’s range and speed. Both types are to be built to meet Army speed, range, and lift requirements.
Having said that, China and the West are investing in developing helicopters of the future to aid in multi-role missions and work as capacity enhancer while also functioning as an assault aircraft.
The future helicopters could also be pitted against one another as has been the case with the Z-20 and Blackhawks.