Taking the theme of "innovative integration, coordinated development," the 4th China Helicopter Expo ended on September 17, 2017, showcasing the great ambition of China's fast-emerging civil aviation industry. Debuted in 2011, the prestigious four-day exposition is the only international helicopter expo in China. It is now the second largest expo in the world and the largest in Asia. Surely, the 4th China Helicopter Expo has convinced the world that China can now draw an "incredible, gorgeous picture for the future of China's aviation industry."
The biennial expo which was co-hosted by the Tianjin Municipal People's Government, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), and China PLA Ground Force, ran from September 14 to 17 in Tianjin Municipality. It offered a summit and air show, and was focused on domestic and overseas advanced helicopters, engines, airborne equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles, ground equipment, simulators and supporting services.
This year's edition of Tianjin Helicopter Expo saw a big increase in foreign and Chinese exhibitors. China Daily reported that 403 companies from 22 countries and regions attended this year's expo, which is 10 percent more than last year. Ninety-eight helicopters and 14 simulation models, 15 plane models, 8 engines, 9 special vehicles and 4 intelligent robots were on display at the expo, including over 20 helicopters for aerobatic shows. Twenty-eight pilots, seven Z-10 helicopters, three Z-19 helicopters, and one Z-8B helicopter from the PLA Ground Force staged static displays and air shows and demonstrated support tasks.
American and European helicopter giants also showed-off their latest high-tech flying contraptions at the Expo, including Sikorsky and Bell Helicopter Textron from the United States, Eurocopter from France and Agusta Westland from Italy. Chinese and Russian helicopters charmed aviation fans.
China's first unmanned combat helicopter with the sophistication of Chinese drone technology, the AV500W made its debut at the expo. The unmanned reconnaissance vehicle was one of the stars of the show. The 7.2-meter-long aircraft was developed and produced at the Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) Helicopter Research and Development Institute in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province. It has a maximum take-off weight of 450 kilograms, a maximum speed of 170 kilometers per hour and a flight ceiling of 4,000 meters. It can remain in the air for four hours. "It will be useful in border patrols, counterterrorism operations and low-intensity conflicts," said Jiang Taiyu, one of the chief designers of AV500W.
Helicopters from the People's Liberation Army Ground Force and from AVIC conducted flight demonstrations at the opening ceremony on September 14. A pair of Chinese military helicopters shocked the expo-goers by performing an in-air ballet-like stunt as they circled around each other nose to nose at the expo. It is the second time the Fenglei aerobatic team of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Aviation had showcased the Z-19 light duty reconnaissance chopper at the bi-yearly event. It should be noted here that the Z-19 has been serving in the PLA Air Force and the aviation wing of the PLA Ground Force since 2011. Other military helicopters including the Z-10 or Fierce Thunderbolt also performed during the show.
Civil helicopters including the AC311, AC312, AC313 and the new-generation intermediate-class AC352 also performed at the expo. The latter, China's first 7.5-metric-ton class helicopter, was shown to the public for the second time after its maiden flight on December 20, 2016. The twin-engine helicopter capable of carrying 16 passengers showcased China's capacity to develop the world's most advanced mid-sized civilian helicopter.
Z-11WB, a light-duty attack helicopter, developed and made by AVIC Changhe Aircraft Industry in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, made its public debut on September 15 at the four-day Expo. The Z-11WB is based on the AC311 civilian craft and can conduct reconnaissance and ground assault operations. Z-11WB Chief Designer Wei Songlin said "the fully digital design and highly integrated avionics system make Z-11WB more intelligent. It can perform a variety of tasks, including battle field reconnaissance, patrol, escorts, precision attack to the ground and fire support."
According to CCTV, the last show on September 15 was presented by the Fenglei aerobatic team. Four Z-10 attack helicopters climbed together and, when reaching the peak, the formation was scattered to four different directions, just like a flower in full bloom. The excellent aerial stunts won loud cheers from spectators.
On September 16, China's first heavy-lift helicopter, AC313, astonished over ten thousand spectators with an excellent aerial fire-extinguishing show. With a long tube, the 13-ton helicopter displayed its capability for pouring water while airborne. According to AVIC, the helicopter will have a maximum takeoff weight of 38.2 metric tons and a maximum cruising speed of 300 kilometers per hour. It will be capable of flying at altitudes up to 5,700 meters and have a range of 630 km. It can carry four tons inside the cabin or lift five tons outside the body.
China's helicopter industry has been on a steady rise over the last decade. The domestic industry now boasts aircraft classes from one to 13 tons. The market value of China's helicopter industry is expected to reach 1 trillion yuan ($147.2 billion). China's helicopter giant Avicopter has mastered more than 50 models in 12 series of helicopters, with an annual production capacity of more than 300 helicopters.
China is the world's second largest and one of the world's fastest growing civil aviation markets. China will become the largest civil market and an important partner in industrial cooperation of the world's largest civil helicopter maker, Airbus Helicopters, which foresees a potential demand for 1,000 helicopters over the next decade in China.
China's demand for helicopters with multiple functions such as emergency medical services, law enforcement, firefighting, and tourism is soaring. Industry experts predict that the number of helicopters in China will grow by over 30 percent annually over the next decade. It is expected that China will have the capability of mass production of more advanced helicopters for both military and civilian use by the end of the 13th Five-year Plan (2016-2020).
China's helicopter industry is gearing up to become a global power. China is set to boost the development of the general aviation industry, with a focus on civil helicopters. It is hoped that China's fast-paced military helicopter industry will surely boost the development of more civilian helicopters to meet commercial demand.
Rabi Sankar Bosu is Secretary of New Horizon Radio Listeners' Club, based in West Bengal, India.