China’s Z-20 Medium Utility Helicopter

China’s state media has given some details about the Harbin Z-20 medium-lift transport helicopter, a fortnight after it made its public debut at the military parade in Beijing on 1 October 2019. The Z-20 has a fly-bywire flight control system, according to Li Linhua, chief technology expert at the Helicopter Research and Development Institute of China’s Aviation Industry Corporation, or AVIC, the Chinese stateowned aerospace and defence conglomerate of which manufacturer Harbin Aircraft Industry Group is a subsidiary. Li added that its fly-by-wire technology reduces the Z-20’s overall weight and “makes it easier to fly”. Chen Guang, Vice General Manager of AVIC’s helicopter subsidiary Avicopter, stated that the Z-20 was an indigenous product designed and built exclusively by AVIC whose officials provided some information during the fifth China Helicopter Exposition in China which showcased PLA’s Z-20s in both flight and static display.

The Z-20 programme was first known of to in 2013, and sightings of a likely prototype plus satellite photos began to emerge 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 early 2018. Powered by two 1,600 kW turboshaft engines, a display board accompanying the exhibited engine noted that the power plant (WZ-10) was suitable for medium and large helicopters. Performance of the engine, which is claimed to have been independently developed is reportedly comparable with those produced by leading international manufacturers. No further information was released about the active vibration control system, nor of the rotor design features. Images indicate that a deicing system is integrated into the main rotor blades, to enhance the helicopter’s all-weather capabilities.

China has meanwhile been negotiating to acquire a major share in the Ukrainian company Motor Sich which is one of the largest engine manufacturers for aircraft and helicopters worldwide. In 2017 Beijing Skyrizon Aviation had purchased 41% holding in Motor Sich, but in September 2017 a Ukrainian court froze the holding for national security reasons. Beijing Skyrizon Aviation wanted to set up an assembly and servicing plant in Chongqing in southwest China, but US resistance to the sale has kept the matter pending so far. There have been numerous suggestions that the Z-20 is in fact a “cloned Black Hawk”, whose development actually kickstarted after the US operation in Abbottabad that took out al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011. According to reports at the time, Pakistan’s intelligence service gave Chinese engineers access to one of the Black Hawks, which had crashed during the operation, even though the Marines had tried to destroy the downed helicopter. Many have dubbed the Z-20 as ‘Copyhawk’, with features of the Sikorsky S-70C-2 helicopter, 24 of which were procured in the 1980s, this being a civilian version of the UH-60 Black Hawk. It is also learnt that the PLA has been deploying the Z-20 in Tibet to supplement and eventually supplant the large numbers of Russian-origin Mi-17 medium lift helicopters in the high plateau region.

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Nitin Konde is a freelance journalist with an experience of more than a decade. Being a freelancer, he has covered various domains in his field such as Sports, Biotechnology, Defence etc. and has been associated with brands like The Times of India, Vayu Aerospace and Defence Review Magazines. Since the last three years he has been focusing and writing extensively on the defence sector, he is here to share his expertise with our readers on AviatorsBuzz.