By Zhang Jie and Liu Yang
The official WeChat public account of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) recently revealed that its AV500 unmanned helicopter (as shown above) performed well in a recent military exercise of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Some analysts believe that the AV500's main performance is comparable to that of the famous US Fire Scout unmanned helicopter MQ-8.
Chinese experts said that as a supplement to fixed-wing UAVs, the AV500 is set to become an important component of the Chinese UAV corps.
According to AVIC’s WeChat account, the AV500 unmanned helicopter developed and built by AVIC was recently invited to participate in an actual-combat exercise of the PLA.
On the day of the exercise, with high-altitude wind speeds reaching 22 meters per second (79.2km/h), the AV500 simulated conducting defense penetration operations at mid and low altitudes. By virtue of its superior wind-resistant performance, precise route control, and stable flight attitude, the AV500 spanned a long distance of 180 kilometers with all parameters registered as normal in about two hours.
The results showed that the air-defense penetration combat capability of the AV500 lived up to expectations, successfully completing the air defense penetration exercise
China Aviation News reported on October 31, 2017 that the AV500 unmanned helicopter carried out a test flight at the Xiahe Airport in northwest China's Gansu Province at an altitude of 4,600 meters, and broke the flying height record of 5,006 meters, setting a new record for domestic UAVs. On November 18, 2017, the AV500 unmanned helicopter successfully completed its missile-armed flight and shooting test at a base in Golmud in northwest China’s Qinghai Province.
Military experts said in an interview that the AV500 may not yet officially "join the army", but remain for now as a "guest" invited to participate in the military exercise.
Comparable performance to the US Fire Scout unmanned helicopter
The AV500 unmanned helicopter is reportedly a mature, light unmanned helicopter with a wide range of quasi-military and civilian benefits. Its maximum takeoff weight is 500kg with a payload of 190kg, and its flying height is capable of reaching 5,000 meters, boasting a maximum endurance of nine hours and a control radius of 200km.
The AV500 unmanned helicopter and its armed variant perform well on the plateau, boasting strong maneuverability, convenient deployment, superb reconnaissance and rapid response capabilities, and capable of accurately striking ground targets, such as light vehicles and personnel, making it especially suitable for operations in complex terrain like plateau.
Experts introduced that the demand of unmanned reconnaissance and attack helicopters for the takeoff and landing sites is relatively low, so they have their place in the field of unmanned reconnaissance and attack aircraft. A typical example is the MQ-8 series of unmanned helicopters developed by the US Northrop Grumman Corporation.
The MQ-8B unmanned helicopter has an empty weight of 940kg, a maximum takeoff weight of 1.4 tons, an endurance time of eight hours, and a flying height of about 6,000 meters.
Due to its vertical takeoff and landing characteristics, the RQ-8A Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is favored by the US Navy, enjoying takeoff and landing rights on ships above the frigate level, for reconnaissance, surveillance, missile relay guidance, and target indication. In view of its longer endurance time than manned helicopters, it can also play a role in increasing the detection distance for small ships.
Compared with the US Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, the AV500 has a smaller size, but performs comparably in certain aspects, including endurance time and flying height.
What’s more, the AV500 is even stronger in terms of post-equipment adaptability, making it very suitable for onboard installation, as well as for takeoff and landing in small land areas.
In addition, due to the helicopter’s slow flight speed, it is capable of hovering. Meanwhile, combined with its feature of weaker radar signals, it can even approximate invisibility in certain conditions.
Air Force expert Fu Qianshao said that the development prospects for unmanned helicopters are much brighter with their wide range of uses. For example, the AV500 with a maximum takeoff weight of 500kg has a payload of 190kg, while current anti-tank missiles weigh dozens of kilograms each, so the AV500 is able to simultaneously carry out reconnaissance and assault tasks.
"Based on the general model, the AV500 can also be developed into a maritime version that meets the Navy’s shipboard demands. If the armored units of the Army are heavily equipped with such drones that can be released into the air at any time, the armored forces would be able to ‘see’ even farther and also be able to conduct joint operations with ground forces. Furthermore, the Air Force can equip its relevant rescue forces with such unmanned helicopters,” Fu added.
Fu believed that, starting with suitable usage of the AV500 unmanned helicopter at its present level, Chinese aviation industries can continue to develop unmanned helicopters of a thousand kilograms and even several kilograms.
Fu also believed that in the future, China can develop even larger unmanned transport helicopters. At the same time, after being verified, the technologies adopted on unmanned helicopters can also be applied to the field of manned helicopters.
Disclaimer: The authors are Zhang Jie and Liu Yang with the Global Times. The article is translated and edited from Chinese into English by the China Military online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author from the Global Times and do not reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn. Chinamil.com.cn does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. If the article carries photographs or images, we do not vouch for their authenticity.