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China flies new ‘Z-20’ military helicopter

I spy: An enlarged portion of the original Z-20 image posted on www.cjdby.net

China has flown a new medium-lift utility helicopter, unofficially desgnated the Z-20, with Western analysts calling it a Black Hawk knockoff and Chinese commentators heralding it as another step in China’s march to military superiority.

The aircraft came to light when an image was posted on the Chinese military forum www.cjdby.net on December 23. The Chinese Government subsequently confirmed its existence on the official CCTV news channel.

The Z-20 has a takeoff weight of 10 tonnes and can operate at high altitudes. It is believed to feature advanced noise-reduction technology and be able to operate from China’s new Liaoning aircraft carrier.

“The Z-20 is supposed to fill a long-time void in the helicopter fleet of the People’s Liberation Army. Hopefully, it will fulfill the requirements of the PLA’s ground force and navy,” Wang Ya’nan, deputy editor-in-chief at Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the People’s Daily newspaper last week.

“Though we now have the advanced WZ-10 and WZ-19 attack helicopters in the army, the absence of a suitable, Chinese-made utility helicopter hampers the army’s ability to transport strike forces and carry out support missions.”

The helicopter’s close resemblance to the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter has caused some commentators to dub it the ‘Copy Hawk’ and even surmise that it’s based on Chinese examination of the Black Hawk that crashed during the US Navy SEAL operation to kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

But the Chinese don’t agree. Chen Hong, a researcher at the PLA Air Force Command Institute in Beijing, told Beijing News that “although the aircraft’s appearance bears some resemblances to the US’ Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Z-20 is merely a knockoff of its US counterpart”.

For a start, he said, the Z-20 has a larger cabin and different landing gear and tail. More importantly, it also has a five-blade rotor compared with the UH-60’s four blades.

“The addition of a blade will enable the Z-20 to outperform the UH-60 when it comes to lift force, ferry range and payload capacity,” Chen said.

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