New Heavy Helicopter Deal Symbolizes Closer Russia-China Ties

 - May 12, 2015, 7:25 AM
An Mi-26 led the flypast over the Victory Day parade in Moscow, followed by Mi-17s. Russia and China will jointly develop a successor heavy-lift helicopter. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Russian Helicopters and Avic signed a breakthrough deal on May 8 for joint development of the Advanced Heavy Lift (AHL) helicopter. The ceremony took place in the Kremlin and was witnessed by President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jingping, who was in Moscow for the parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. In a sign of closer ties between Russia and China, a column of PLA servicemen marched in the parade in Red Square for the first time, and Putin referred to Xi as “our great friend,” noting that “our counties are in the period of a new level of partnership.”

The following day, an Mi-26 helicopter, which is to provide the basis for AHL development, opened the aerial part of the Victory Day parade, leading a five-ship formation. The four Mi-17 medium helicopters looked like gnomes following a giant. A total of 143 aircraft flew over the parade, which included the debut of the newly formed Russian air force Yak-130 display team, “Wings of Tavrida.” Tavrida is an old Russian name for the Crimea; many foreign leaders declined to attend the Victory Day parade in protest of Russia’s annexation of that territory last year.

According to the Russian Helicopters press service, the May 8 agreement allows for design work on the Advanced Heavy Lift helicopter to start in earnest, and for production preparations to commence. Production of the AHL (earlier referred to as the Advanced Heavy Helicopter or AHH) will be in China. The companies expect to log orders for more than 200 of the aircraft, with deliveries running through 2040.

The AHL’s max takeoff weight is estimated at 38 tons, max payload capability at 10 metric tons inside the cabin and up to 15 metric tons on a sling.The Mi-26 has a max takeoff weight of 56 tons and max payload capability of up to 20 tons.

Among the mutually agreed requirements for the new rotorcraft is an ability to operate around-the-clock in a hot-and-high environment, and in all weather. According to Russian Helicopters, the AHL “will be able to serve in a wide spectrum of roles, including transportation, evacuation and fire-fighting." The Russian company emphasizes the civilian nature of the new project. However, the design targets, if met, would also qualify the AHL for many military applications.

Russian Helicopters general director Alexander Mikheyev said, “The Chinese helicopter market is one of the fastest growing in the world…it is important that the proposed heavy helicopter has gained approval from the governments of both countries. We are sure that the materialization of this project will expand the horizons for Sino-Russian cooperation.”

In turn, Avic executive director and chairman Lin Zuoming said, “Russian Helicopters has unique competence in heavy rotorcraft. The Mi-26TS played an important role in disaster-relief operations following the earthquakes in Sichuan province of China in 2008 and 2013. I am convinced that the cooperation with Russian Helicopters will greatly influence in a positive way the further development of the Chinese helicopter industry.”

China has been a major customer for Russian Helicopters, having purchased more than 300 Mi-17s, mostly in military versions. With Kamov Ka-27/28/31-series naval helicopters and a few Mi-26TS and Ka-32A11BC civilian machines, the grand total is approximately 400.