A Chinese military utility helicopter roughly equivalent to the Sikorsky H-60 made its first flight on Dec. 23, state media report.
The helicopter, with the unconfirmed designation Z-20, is a 10-metric-ton (22,000 lb.) aircraft suitable for operation from high-altitude fields, China Central Television says. For almost three decades, China has relied on 24 UH-60 Black Hawks bought in the 1980s for such operations.
The Z-20 is externally similar to the Sikorsky helicopter. The body is low relative to its height, and the undercarriage has a tailwheel arrangement.
It can be taken for granted that Chinese engineers, tasked with building an aircraft similar to the H-60 and having samples available, will have referred closely to the U.S. design as they drew up their own. Further, the Chinese military may simply regard the H-60 configuration as highly suitable for the military utility mission.
A notable difference is the five-blade rotor; the H-60’s rotor has four blades.
The first flight took place at in northeastern China, the television network says. That strongly suggests that the aircraft is a product of Harbin Aircraft, part of Avic rotary wing division Avicopter.
A 10-ton military helicopter should have much the same potential applications as the H-60 and NH Industries NH90 offer to Western users, including battlefield transport and antisubmarine warfare. Depending on how far the design is compromised by its primarily military functions, it may also be useful for Chinese civil operators, but cannot have airworthiness certification recognized by Western aviation authorities, limiting its salability abroad.
The 10-ton category has been a notable gap in Avicopter’s increasingly complete range of helicopters, which runs from 1 to 13 tons gross weight, including several types in development.