Armed VTOL Machine at Helicopter Show In China

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) revealed two updated designs of its AV500W unmanned vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle at the fourth China Helicopter Exposition held recently in Tianjing. AVIC also showed a revised version of the Sino-Russian Advanced Heavy Lift (AHL) helicopter program.

The AV500W unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was unveiled at last year’s Zhuhai Airshow. Its designers from the China Helicopter Research and Development Institute have now given the AV500W a smaller and sleeker appearance. The design concept is similar to that of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Firescout, but one-third the weight of the Western counterpart.

The airframe measures 7.2 meters/23.6 feet long, 2.3 meters/7.5 feet high and 1.6 meters/5.2 feet wide, and its maximum takeoff weight has been reduced from 470 kg/1,036 pounds to 450 kg/992 pounds based on the latest specifications. The UAV has a maximum speed of 170 km/h, and a combat radius of 200 km. It made its first flight last month.

The primary armaments include the new FT-8D anti-tank missile carried on four underwing wing hardpoints. The FT-8D is a semi-active laser-guided anti-tank missile, with a range of up to 5 km.  According to an AVIC spokesperson at the expo, the missile was tested in the early half of this year and yielded satisfactory results. The AV500 can also carry conventional bombs, as well as external loads relevant to search-and-rescue operations.

The spokesman said that countries in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, had shown interest in this UAV, especially for counter-insurgency missions. Many of these states have turned to China as their main supplier for armed drones, since the West places stringent export conditions on such weapons to foreign states.

Meanwhile, the design and capabilities of the joint AHL project between China and Russia was revised. The helicopter has increased in maximum takeoff weight to 38.7 tonnes, putting it in the class between the CH-47F Chinook and the Russian Mi-26 Halo. Similarly, the maximum range of the AHL helicopter is increased from 630 km to 800 km, with ramp access for 10 tonnes internal payload or 15 tonnes underslung load. The initial agreement to jointly develop this helicopter was signed by the two countries in 2016. A formal joint venture is expected to be agreed by end of this year.


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