by Hu Tao, Li Mengxin
BEIJING, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) -- China is accelerating research and development of domestically-designed helicopters at an unprecedented pace, with a target of meeting the nation's strong demand for helicopters with plateau capabilities.
A series of new helicopter models have been in various phases of testing their performance and capacity in plateau regions over the last month, according to the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
"As an example of military and civilian integration, helicopters are of strategic importance to China as it has a complex geological environment and great demand," said Chen Yuanxian, vice president with AVIC.
NEW MODELS UP ON THE PLATEAU
China's surging aviation industry is continuously sending stronger signals with successive new models of Chinese-designed helicopters breaking records on the high plateau.
The domestically-developed AC312E, a light twin-engine civilian helicopter, completed all of its plateau test flights after a series of tests in sub-plateau, plateau and high plateau regions, AVIC announced on Nov. 21.
With specially designed engines on this model, the AC312E has successfully completed all requirements for high-altitude helicopters, according to its developer AVIC Hafei, a subsidiary of AVIC.
The model can fly at 6,300 meters above sea level, with a maximum take-off weight of 4.25 tonnes and maximum payload of 1.7 tonnes.
"It was designed and developed to meet the country's urgent demand on the plateau. Despite being a light helicopter, it can carry up to nine passengers,"said Li Shengwei, deputy chief designer of AVIC Hafei.
"More importantly, we have mastered key technologies such as the helicopter avionics to allow it to perform well and steady on plateau," he added.
The AC312E series may eventually include four specialized models for emergency medical services, search and rescue, business transport and law enforcement, according to Li.
Just days prior, the domestically-developed AV500W unmanned helicopters conducted target shooting tests at an altitude of 4,300 meters on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau on Nov. 18.
The AV500W is the reconnaissance-and-strike variant of the AV500, which climbed to an altitude of 5,006 meters during tests in late October, said China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) under AVIC.
It set a ceiling record for China's domestically-made unmanned helicopters by climbing on the high plateau.
The model can be used in counter-terrorism, drug control, border patrol, geological surveying and mapping in both plain and plateau regions.
STRONG DEMAND ACROSS VAST NATION
China has complex topographic conditions and great variations across its vast territory, with highlands in the west, oceans in the east and diverse terrain in the transitional areas.
"In both emergency relief and engineering operations, China is in dire need of multifunctional heavy-lift helicopters that have plateau capabilities," said Huang Chuanyue, deputy chief designer at Avicopter, the helicopter sector of AVIC.
As aircraft that can take off or land perpendicularly, hover in midair, and move freely in any direction, helicopters have distinct advantages.
During wartime, their high viewpoint poses an intimidating threat to enemies on ground. In the civilian sector, they can greatly decrease transportation time and shorten distances due to their advanced agility.
The country's civilian helicopter market has previously been dominated by foreign companies such as Airbus Helicopters and Bell Helicopter.
Airbus Helicopters currently holds a forty-percent market share of China's civil helicopter sector.
It is of strategic importance for China to continuously cultivate its domestic helicopter industry for both commercial and strategic value, according to industry insiders.
Over the last 60 years, China has built a family pedigree of helicopters as well as a worldwide supply chain system that combines both military and civilian purposes.
Avicopter is now among the world's leading helicopter manufacturers with more than 50 models in 12 series and annual production of more than 300 aircraft.
Its product line is made up of military helicopters such as Z8, Z9, Z10, Z11, Z19, as well as civilian helicopters such as AC311, AC312, AC352 and AC313 series.
HIGHER AMBITIONS IN THE SKY
"Chinese innovation in the helicopter industry is a task required by the nation. We shall persist in constructing integrated helicopters worthy of the country's development steps and demands," said Hong Jiao, vice president of CHRDI.
Chinese military helicopter technology has been growing especially fast in recent years. Some military-oriented models such as the WZ-10 can even compete at world-leading levels.
"More efforts are being undertaken in strengthening the civilian sector, especially various models which can handle missions in the plateau regions," said Huang.
China and Russia have jointly announced a road map for developing a heavy-lift helicopter with the ability to fly over plateaus higher than 3,000 meters and maneuver among mountains, according to Huang.
The helicopter will have a designed take-off weight of 38 tonnes, with internal cargo capacity of 10 tonnes and external sling capacity of 15 tonnes.
"It will be designed with advanced plateau capabilities and initially be available for domestic clients, especially those in urgent need of heavy-lift helicopters for highland missions," said Huang.