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Unmanned helicopter makes the grade

By Zhao Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-25 07:09

Chinese-made drone capable of reconnaissance/combat missions

China recently flight-tested an unmanned reconnaissance/combat helicopter on a plateau in Qinghai province, according to Aviation Industry Corp of China, the State-owned aircraft giant.

The AV500W unmanned autonomous helicopter was flown for the first time on Saturday on a plateau test base in Golmud of the northwestern province of Qinghai, which has an altitude of 4,300 meters.

Air-to-ground missiles were fired by the drone and hit targets during the test, the AVIC Helicopter Research and Development Institute in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, said in a news release sent to China Daily on Thursday.

The test showed that the AV500W is capable of conducting reconnaissance or strike operations on high-altitude regions, paving the way for deployment of such aircraft on plateaus, according to the institute, the helicopter's developer.

The 7.2-meter-long drone has a maximum takeoff weight of 500 kilograms on plains, but the carrying capacity would be reduced to 430 kg on plateaus, said the release.

It has a maximum speed of 170 kilometers per hour, and is able to fly four hours in a single mission. The helicopter can carry up to 120 kg of weapons and equipment, according to the release.

The institute said that there are many users in the international market wishing to employ unmanned helicopters to serve civilian and military purposes, noting such demand has been "especially urgent" for China's plateau areas.

The helicopter is good in terms of mobility, deployability, penetration capability as well as automation.

It also has a stealth design. A typical mission would be a precision attack on light-duty armored vehicles and personnel, the institute said, adding it can be useful in counter-terrorism, riot control, communication relay, and drug and smuggling suppression.

All of the military drones China has offered to the international market have been fixed-wing models, making the AV500W the first Chinese unmanned military helicopter available in that market, industry observers said.

Materials about the AV500W previously distributed by the institute show that an armed AV500W typically carries four air-to-ground missiles. Each missile weighs 8 kg and can hit a target 5 km away. The aircraft can also carry bombs or a machine-gun pod.

Jiang Taiyu, one of the chief designers of the AV500W, said all of the helicopter's tests will be finished before the end of this year and it will be ready for mass production in 2018.

He said only the United States and Israel have developed unmanned armed helicopters, such as the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout in the US.

The aircraft can take off and land autonomously on any landform, according to Jiang. Its target market will be countries dealing with terrorism such as those in the Middle East, he said, adding the institute plans to develop a shipborne variant.

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