The past 12 months have not been the most thrilling, it has to be said, for anyone on the lookout for new Western helicopters. Apart from the first look at an intriguing new European tiltwing design, there has been little to report in terms of new initiatives from the major manufacturers. Most of those seeking certification, with the honorable exception of the AB139, inch toward their goal with all the alacrity of a snail on Prozac.
On the other side of the world, however, the People’s Republic of China has flexed its own design and manufacturing muscle with milestones achieved by two models influenced heavily by Eurocopter designs. Eurocopter has also licensed assembly of one of its newer designs to the same Chinese firm and Bell has also subcontracted work there.
Although civil helicopter use in the PRC has so far been restricted to offshore applications, demand is growing for rotorcraft in areas ranging from laying power cables to reforestation and firefighting. After decades of stagnation and misuse, billions of yuan are being invested in construction projects, re-forestation of barren hills and the reinvigoration of unproductive pastures.
World watchers predict that the nation will start to show its true potential over the next few years; the part to be played by helicopters is equally huge and there are precious few in the country at present. Look East, young man.