BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - China has unveiled an unmanned armed helicopter, the first such Chinese aircraft in the market.
Chinese state-owned aircraft giant, Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC), put its AV500W unmanned autonomous helicopter on display at the fourth China Helicopter Expo in Tianjin on Thursday (Sept 14).
The 7.2m long aircraft, developed and produced at the AVIC Helicopter Research and Development Institute in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, has a maximum takeoff weight of 450kg, a maximum speed of 170km per hour and a flight ceiling of 4,000m, according to the institute.
The helicopter is capable of carrying 120kg of weapons and equipment. Its reconnaissance version can remain aloft for eight hours while the reconnaissance combat model is able to fly four hours.
All of the military drones that China has offered to the international market have been fixed-wing models, making the AV500W the first Chinese unmanned military helicopter available in that market, observers said.
An armed AV500W typically carries four air-to-ground missiles, which use radar homing technology for guidance. Each missile weighs 8kg and can hit a target 5km away, the institute said. It also can carry bombs or a machine-gun pod.
The helicopter features good mobility, penetration capability and a high level of automation and has a stealth design. A typical mission would be a precision attack on light-duty armoured vehicles and personnel, the institute said.
Mr Jiang Taiyu, one of the chief designers of AV500W, said the aircraft fired weapons during its maiden flight test in August.
"The helicopter is able to take off and land on almost any landform including plateaus and canyons. It can operate in cold and tropical environments. It will be useful in border patrols, counter-terrorism operations and low-intensity conflicts because it can carry out very-low-altitude penetration and keep hovering for a while," he said.
The designer added that all of the helicopter's tests will be finished before the end of this year and it will be ready for mass-production in 2018.
"Several nations have told us that they are interested in this aircraft. This is because there are a very small number of unmanned helicopters in the world that can perform strikes, while demand for such types is not small," Mr Jiang said.
He said only the United States and Israel have developed unmanned armed helicopters, such as the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout in the US.
The AV500W's target market will be countries dealing with terrorism such as in the Middle East, he said.
Unmanned aircraft technology director Fang Yonghong at AVIC Helicopter Research and Development Institute said many countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East face huge pressure to ramp up their counter-terrorism efforts, so they need good, affordable equipment such as the AV500W.
More than 400 helicopter producers and parts suppliers from 22 countries and regions - such as the US, Russia and France - are taking part in the helicopter expo, the largest of its kind in China. They brought 98 aircraft to the event.
Helicopters from the People's Liberation Army Ground Force and AVIC conducted flight demonstrations at the opening ceremony on Thursday morning.