The Z-20 completes its first test flight, Dec. 23. (Internet photo)
Military analysts claim the People's Liberation Army is likely to enter its first indigenous utility helicopter into service very soon following the first test flight of the country's 10-tonne medium utility helicopter, commonly known as the Z-20, at an unknown airfield in northeastern China on Dec. 23, according to the Beijing Times.
Since the creation of PLA army aviation force in 1986, China has been unable to build its own medium-size helicopter. Fang Bing, a military expert, said that the standard weight of an utility helicopter is 10 tonnes. However, all of the helicopters previously designed by China have been either too heavy or too light to serve as tactical utility helicopters. For this reason, China had to purchase 24 Black Hawk helicopters from the United States back in 1984.
Fang said that all of the domestically designed helicopters such as the Z-11, Z-9, Z-10 and Z-19 are too small to serve as tactical utility helicopters. One of the primary missions of PLA army aviation units is to provide fire support to the ground forces, China therefore needs a tactical utility helicopter which is equipped with missiles and has the capability to carry troops to the battlefield, Fang said. He added that the helicopter would have to fulfill the requirements of the PLA Army, Navy and Air Force.
Du Wenlong, a military analyst from Beijing, said that a utility helicopter must be designed in at least four different types including a transport version, an air assault version, an electronic warfare version and an air-refueling version. He said that as the Z-20 helicopter has yet to enter service there is no official name for the aircraft, but added that its design is very similar to the UH-60 Black Hawk of the United States.
When the development of the 10-tonnes medium helicopter is completed, Du said that it will be able to carry out multiple missions in different terrians. Equipped with a more powerful engine, it is capable of deploying troops to places as high as 3,000 feet above sea level. The Z-20 can also be deployed from the Liaoning, the country's first aircraft carrier, and other PLA surface combat vessels to conduct patrol, reconnaissance, rescue, supply and anti-submarine missions, he said.