MELBOURNE, Australia — China’s state media has revealed details about the Harbin Z-20 medium-lift transport helicopter, two weeks after it made its debut at a military parade marking the country’s 70th anniversary.
A fly-by-wire flight control system is among the features of the Z-20, according to Li Linhua, chief technology expert at the Helicopter Research and Development Institute of China’s Aviation Industry Corporation, or AVIC, the Chinese state-owned aerospace and defense conglomerate of which manufacturer Harbin Aircraft Industry Group is a subsidiary.
Li added that the use of fly-by-wire technology reduces the Z-20′s overall weight and makes it easier to fly, according to newspaper China Daily, which also quoted Chen Guang, vice general manager of AVIC’s helicopter subsidiary Avicopter, as saying that the Z-20 was an indigenous product designed and built exclusively by AVIC.
Nevertheless, the Z-20, which is powered by a pair of turboshaft engines reportedly designated the WZ-10, bears a striking resemblance to the Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk family in terms of general layout, aesthetics and size. China’s People’s Liberation Army operates the demilitarized version of the Black Hawk sold by the United States in the 1990s.
Rumors of the Z-20 program began as far back as 2013, and sightings of a likely prototype as well as satellite photos began soon after. Following a development and test phase, the Z-20 was reported to have entered limited service with the People’s Liberation Army’s aviation arm in late 2017 or early 2018.
The AVIC officials were speaking at the fifth China Helicopter Exposition in Tianjin, China. Army Z-20s were present at both the static and flying displays at the event, which took place Oct. 10-14.
Meanwhile, open-source imagery suggests China is also developing a maritime variant of the Z-20 for use on board the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s warships. Tentatively designated the Z-20F, photos of what appears to be the prototype airframe were recently posted online.
The photos show a gray Z-20 with modifications for shipboard operations, such as a cut-down rear horizontal stabilizer, and a tailwheel that has been relocated forward to the front of the tailboom, similar to the Seahawk helicopters of the U.S. Navy.
Possible equipment on board the prototype, which sported a nose-mounted air-data probe for flight tests, included a small belly radar housing as well as a pair of cheek-mounted housings that is likely to contain phased array radars when in service. A dorsal dome mounted behind the rotor hub is likely for satellite communication equipment.
The Z-20F is expected to perform anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue missions, and other shipboard operations on the Chinese Type 055 cruisers and aircraft carriers. The service has operated the smaller and more limited Harbin Z-9, itself a copy of the Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) Dauphin on board its surface combatants.
The new type is also likely to embark on board some of the later Type 052D destroyers of China’s naval force. At least seven ships of this class are under production at Chinese shipyards with a longer helicopter deck compared to earlier ships, to account for the larger footprint of the Z-20F compared to the Z-9.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.