AC-311 (photo : whatsonnigbo)
BEIJING — China’s Avicopter is studying whether to build a 10-ton helicopter and sees a gap to fill with another, smaller aircraft as it works to become one of a small group of manufacturers with a full range of rotorcraft.
A third version under consideration, which would be built with Russian Helicopters, would have a gross weight of 30 tons, according to Avicopter, the rotary-wing specialist subsidiary of Chinese aeronautics conglomerate Avic.
The company wants to create what it calls a full spectrum of helicopter types — sizes that are spaced widely enough not to compete with each other but closely enough to leave minimal gaps in the market. In the civil field, it has the AC313 (a 13-ton development of the French Super Frelon), the AC352 (a 7-ton aircraft jointly developed by Eurocopter, the EC175), the AC312 (at 4 tons), the AC311 (2 tons) and the new AC310 (1 ton).
AC-310 (photo : whatsonxiamen)
“There is a fairly great distance from 7 tons to 13 tons,” Avicopter Vice President Xia Qunlin says, revealing that the company wanted to fill that gap. Asked whether the helicopter under consideration would have a gross mass of 10 tons, Xia replies: “We feel the Chinese market needs such an aircraft.”
Avicopter is studying the feasibility of such an aircraft, Xia told Aviation Week on the sidelines of Noppen’s China Aircraft Development Summit in Tianjin, the large northern city where it is building its new headquarters and whose municipal government has become a 31% shareholder in the company.
Avicopter has not decided whether to pursue cooperative development in building the 10-ton helicopter. Among Avic’s several subsidiaries, Avicopter is perhaps the one that is closest to independently competing with advanced Western manufacturers of complete civil aircraft.
AC-352 / Z-15 (photo : Airliners)
While using the Super Frelon airframe as a base, Avicopter says it has developed the AC313 on its own, installing Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-67A engines. It has a partnership with Eurocopter to build the AC352 (formerly Z-15), which the European manufacturer calls the EC175.
There may be some technical connection between the AC312 and Eurocopter AS350B, but Avicopter is developing the piston-engine AC310 on its own. It is therefore conceivable that the 10-ton aircraft will offer the occasion for the company to make the jump to developing a major civil helicopter as an independent prime contractor.
The aircraft would compete against the Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma. As a military aircraft, it would be comparable to the Sikorsky H-60 and NH Industries NH90.
AC-313 (photo : top81)
Xia points out that there also is a gap to fill between the AC352 and the A312, adding that a new helicopter in that range, presumably of about 5.5 tons, is not yet under study.
Avicopter previously said that it is also considering a larger aircraft, the Advanced Heavy Lifter, in cooperation with Russian Helicopters. Russian sources have given the mass as 30 tons, which Xia now confirms. But the Avicopter official rejects an assumption that the helicopter would be based on the Mil Mi-46 design that has been awaiting full-scale development since the early 1990s.
“The Mi-46 is not big enough; [it is] too small,” he says, and the giant, 56-ton Mi-26 is too big. “We feel that a 30-ton gross weight can satisfy most requirements.” The Sikorsky CH-53 and Boeing CH-47 compete in that weight, he notes.
So the Advanced Heavy Lifter, if it goes ahead, will have a new design. While Xia will not comment on military applications, it can be assumed that such a helicopter would be particularly useful to the People’s Liberation Army.
Interestingly, Xia dismissed the Mi-46 as too small even though its maximum weight has generally been reported as 30 tons.