“Our simulator training has advanced greatly,” regiment commander Col. Zhang Zhilin tells Aviation Week. “We previously used actual [flight] training but now we train mainly with simulators. Doing so cuts costs, and the scenarios are realistic.”
Asked to name an aspect of the regiment's performance with which he is dissatisfied, he says there is none. “Of course that sounds like self-praise, but it is true.” And he adds: “We're very good at flying in bad weather.”
As to the arrival of the Z-10 at the regiment, Zhang dodges the question, only saying that new equipment is a matter for his superiors.
The regiment's missions have included recovery of Shenzhou manned space capsules, and it participated in rescue operations after an enormous earthquake struck Sichuan in 2008.
The Z-9WZ is “the first kind of armed reconnaissance helicopter” to equip the Chinese army, the regiment says, although this seems to overlook earlier armed versions of the Z-9 series.
Reflecting the attack role and the weight of sensors and weapons, the passenger cabins of the helicopters displayed at Tongzhou were largely bare, with only two seats, facing forward, and a hefty rack of electronic black boxes.
Weapons on display at Tongzhou included PL-90 air-to-air missiles, Type 23-2 cannon of 23-mm caliber, one kind of air-to-ground rocket of 70-mm caliber and another designated Type 57-1 of 57-mm caliber. Launcher pods of the rockets were also shown. But more-advanced weapons, including the HJ-10 anti-tank guided missile, were absent.
Along with mechanical gauges, the Z-9WZ's cockpit featured a small central flat display, possibly for a moving map, and two large displays, one in front of each crewmember. The buttons on the displays lacked labels, indicating multiple functionality, but there was no indication of the degree of integration of the sensors and weapons.
The Z-9, based on the Eurocopter Dauphin, has been built since 1981 at the Harbin plant that is now part of Avicopter. The correct designations for various armed versions of the Z-9 series have not been clear, so one helpful point of the Tongzhou open day was confirmation of the name Z-9WZ for the configuration of the aircraft on display. It seems to represent the most recent development of the type and was displayed at the Zhuhai air show in 2010, but without such close access.
Photographs show at least four versions since China began working on armed Z-9s in the 1980s. Differences are apparent in the sensor fit, pylon shape and door arrangements.