China Shows Off Its Attack Helicopters

 - November 23, 2012, 7:50 AM
The Chinese Z-10 attack helicopter made its public debut at the Zhuhai airshow, although no new information was released. A smaller tandem-seat attack helicopter, the Z-19, was also shown briefly. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

The Z-10 and Z-19 helicopters both made their public debuts at Airshow China in Zhuhai last week. The Changhe-built Z-10 performed daily during the show, while the Harbin-built Z-19 appeared twice. Neither was available for close inspection in the static park. Both are tandem-seat machines with nose-mounted gyro-stabilized sensor/targeting “ball”-style turret, and stubby wings with weapons pylons.

Whereas the Z-10 is a brand-new design, the Z-19 is further evolution of the Z-9, this being a Chinese clone of the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin from which it takes the propulsion system with a four-bladed main rotor and an 11-bladed Fenestron. The Z-19 is likely powered by two Chinese-made WZ-8A turboshafts developing 632 kW (848 hp) each.

Little was heard about the Z-10 before Airshow China 2012, and its appearance came as a surprise. Outwardly, this new rotorcraft resembles the AgustaWestland A129 Mangusta. The version displayed at Zhuhai showed respectable flight performance and admirable functioning of the flight control system: the pilots demonstrated high climb rates; the ability to fly backward, including in a climb; and good maneuverability in the hover.

According to reports in Chinese media, a number of Z-10s have been produced and delivered to combat units, but this is yet to be confirmed. The five-bladed main rotor is made in a Eurocopter style, but differs from that of the Z-9 in an X-style tail rotor replacing the Fenestron. The Z-10 rotors look similar to those shown on the six-metric ton “medium utility helicopter” that Avic presented in large model form at the Zhuhai show in 2004. The blades itself are classic, with no reflection of the modern trend to slash outer tips.

It has been speculated that production Z-10s would be powered by Chinese-made 2,010-shp turboshafts, but the one shown at Zhuhai last week would appear to have TV3-117 series motors from Ukrainian maker Motor-Sich. The Z-10 has stub wings with two weapons pylons each and a rapid-fire cannon mounted on a tilting platform in the nose, with its caliber seemingly somewhere between 12.7 mm and 23 mm. Overall, the Z-10 is a new and important addition to the growing line of indigenous rotorcraft designs, another milestone in development of Chinese products that can potentially compete in the international market.

While the Z-10 is purposely designed for fire-support and anti-tank missions, the Z-19’s main role seems to be armed reconnaissance and scouting. It does not carry a rapid-fire cannon, relying completely on missiles and rockets on weapons pylons. Its predecessor, the weaponized four-seat Z-9W, was on static display at Airshow China.

Meanwhile, China continues to purchase Mi-17V5 and Ka-32A11BC Russian helicopters. It is also working with Russia on a next-generation heavy-lift helicopter in the Mi-6 class, which could supplement the even larger Mi-26 already in Chinese service. Sergei Kornev, head of the aviation department at Rosoboronexport, told journalists at Airshow China that a recent contract for additional 52 Mi-17s is being executed and he expressed hope for more sales. Russia is ready to supply an additional quantity of Ka-31 shipborne “flying radar” helicopters, he added. In addition, Moscow and Beijing are discussing the creation of helicopter support centers as joint ventures. “We expect to sign contracts shortly,” Kornev said.