Thursday, March 6, 2014, 08:36
Sky's the limit for Z-15, helicopter maker says
By Zhao Lei

China is nearing completion on its most advanced helicopter to date and will soon send the prototype up on its maiden flight, a national legislator said.

"The development of the 6-ton-class Z-15 is progressing smoothly. Our designers and engineers are completing the project according to schedule," Yu Feng, deputy to the National People's Congress and deputy general manager of Avicopter, China's only helicopter manufacturer, told China Daily on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the country's top legislature.

"We have submitted our application to the airworthiness certification authority to let it test our aircraft," Yu said. "Although the timetable for the first test flight has yet to be decided, I can tell you it will be soon."

As the nation's first 6-ton medium class utility helicopter, Z-15 was developed by Avicopter and Airbus Helicopters starting in 2006. France-based Airbus is the world's largest helicopter company in terms of revenue.

The project is the first helicopter joint venture in which China and a Western nation share the same responsibilities and profits, according to Avicopter.

Airbus' helicopter, which it dubbed EC175, made its maiden flight in December 2009 in France and was certified this January by the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Airbus Helicopters said on its website that it has signed 48 orders for the EC175.

The airworthiness certification procedure in China, however, differs from the one in Europe, resulting in a delay in the Chinese version's test flight, Yu said.

"Since the beginning of the project, we aimed to make Z-15 the most advanced medium-sized helicopter in the world and have drawn experience from previous versions," he added, noting that the aircraft, with its cutting-edge technology, will be the most comfortable and eco-friendly helicopter of its kind.

It can carry up to 18 passengers, has a maximum takeoff weight of 7.5 tons and a maximum speed of 315 kilometers per hour.

The helicopter is capable of performing multiple civilian and public operations, including supportive tasks for oilfields, maritime search and rescue missions, as well as police patrols.

Avicopter expects about 19 of the choppers will be needed in China on an annual basis through 2022, which means the Z-15 has a large potential market.

Its WZ-16 turboshaft engine, a joint effort by French helicopter engine giant Turbomeca and Aviation Industry Corp of China, completed its first test run in November and will be installed on the Z-15, aviation observers said, suggesting the move will help the country lose its heavy dependence on imported engines.

Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said close cooperation between China and other nations is possible because China has made tremendous progress in the helicopter industry.

"Among all the aircraft developed by China, our helicopter series has the most competitive technologies with those of foreign countries."

Avicopter has received purchase intentions for more than 130 Z-15s, according to Lu Weijian, chief designer of the aircraft.

There are about 30,000 helicopters in use around the world, mostly in the civil sector, said Xiao Zhiyuan, publisher of World Flight magazine.

"But the number of civil helicopters registered in China is only about 200, even fewer than in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo," he said. "By contrast, the United States has more than 10,000 civil helicopters and Russia boasts 3,000."

This situation has spurred China's aircraft companies to speed up their development of helicopters, he added.