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Z-20 10-ton Helicopter

The Z-20, China's medium lift utility helicopter, reportedly made its first flight on 23 December 2013 at an airport in China's Northeast region, according to pictures uploaded by Net users onto lt.cjdby.net, one of the largest military forums in China. China has been in need of a medium utility helicopter and the homemade Z-20, believed to have a capacity of 10 tons, will fulfill the demand. Judging from pictures, the Z-20 is very similar to the US produced Black Hawk, which can lift an entire 11-man fully-equipped infantry squad in most weather conditions. The People's Liberation Army has been using small numbers of American-built Black Hawks for nearly 30 years, indeed, it appears to be a Blackhawk with Chinese characteristics - some called it "Copyhawk". The line art labelled "Z-20" is a Blackhawk, and there are several visible differences between the line art and the photograph.

China is developing its own new type of helicopter, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed on 26 December 2013. Geng Yansheng said at a monthly press briefing that development of helicopters meets the needs of economic and social development, and military construction as well as disaster relief and humanitarian rescue. Geng made the remarks responding to a reporter's question on media reports that said a Chinese-made Zhi-20 (Z-20) helicopter completed a trial flight a few days earlier in northeastern China.

There is a fairly great distance from 7 tons to 13 tons maximum takeoff weight, and the Chinese market needs such an aircraft. Avicopter is studying the feasibility of a 10-ton helicopter project. A model showing a provisional configuration was displayed at the November 2006 Airshow China in Zhuhai. Avicopter had not decided whether to pursue cooperative development in building the 10-ton helo. It may not need much outside help, because it was already moving quickly ahead as an independent developer of complete civil helicopters. The 10-ton aircraft would compete against the Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma. As a military aircraft, it would be comparable with the Sikorsky H-60 and NH Industries' NH90. This was superseded by joint venture program with Eurocopter for EC175/Z-15.

China is making giant strides toward becoming a strong helicopter power, military experts said 03 January 2014. The comments came in the wake of media reports that the nation's first Chinese-made medium-lift utility helicopter has made its maiden flight.

"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, said. "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 situation will change if the Z-20 enters into service soon, he said.

As of 2014, the Z-20 designation had not been officially confirmed, but it was widely used by military enthusiasts and observers. A prototype of the Z-20 conducted its maiden flight on an unidentified airfield in Northeast China on 23 December 2013, Chinese media quoted aviation sources as reporting. The helicopter has a takeoff weight of 10 metric tons and is able to fly at high altitudes, reports said.

Fang Bing, a military expert from PLA National Defense University, said China has long been troubled by the lack of its own midsize helicopter, and all of the helicopters previously developed by China are either too heavy or too light to serve as tactical utility helicopters.

The backbone of the PLA ground force's air transport team is believed to be Russian-made Mil Mi-17s, purchased from Russia in the 1990s and a variation of the Mil Mi-8, which was imported by China in the 1970s. China also bought 24 Sikorsky S-70 series medium-lift helicopters from the United States in the 1980s and assigned them to transportation tasks in high-altitude, mountainous regions of the Tibet and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions.

"Judging from information available now, the Z-20 will mainly be used as a transport vehicle, but because it is designed to be capable of serving multiple purposes, it can be refitted to conduct attack, early-warning, refueling or anti-submarine missions," Chen Hong, a researcher at the PLA Air Force Command Institute in Beijing, told Beijing News. "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," he said. The Z-20 has a five-blade rotor compared with the UH-60's four blades, he added.

"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," he said. The Z-20 also has a larger cabin and a different landing gear and tail than the UH-60, Chen added. Wang speculated that the helicopter can carry about 1.5 tons of cargo internally and up to 5 tons of cargo externally in a sling, enabling China to launch low-altitude, airborne assaults by task forces. He also said the helicopter's designers used several cutting-edge technologies on the helicopter to reduce its noise, thus improving the stealth capability.

The Z-20 will be able to be deployed aboard any air-capable frigate, destroyer, amphibious assault ship or aircraft carrier and handle patrol, reconnaissance, rescue, supply and anti-submarine missions, he said.

By October 2017 the Z-20 utility helicopter, which China considered a match for the UH-60 Blackhawk, is also undergoing tests in plateau regions in China, according to the Aviation Industry Cooperation of China.

China's latest vessel-borne helicopter will take the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's combat capability to a new level, Chinese military experts said on 03 July 2019 after a full-sized model of the navy variant of the Z-20 utility helicopter was allegedly spotted testing on a warship for the first time. Citing a photo that surfaced on Chinese social media, Weapon magazine reported, via its social media account, that the Z-20 navy variant was on board a Chinese destroyer and its characteristic appearance made it clearly identifiable.

Generally the same helicopter as the army version, the vessel-based navy version can additionally minimize its size in the hangar through design features like foldable rotor blades, judging from the photo. It might also feature extra anti-corrosion capabilities and stronger landing gear, said Weapon magazine affiliated with the state-owned China North Industries Group Corporation, a major manufacturer of Chinese military equipment and weapons.

Having a full-sized model on board for testing means the PLA is studying the practical adaptability of the Z-20 on ships, testing for things such as how the helicopter would enter and exit the hanger and how much space it would actually take up, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday. Compared to other in-service shipboard helicopters, the Z-20 has a good takeoff weight (while remaining not oversized on ships) and can better adapt to situations at seas, Li said.

Often compared to the US' UH-60 Black Hawk, the Z-20 is a 10 ton-class medium-lift utility helicopter that can adapt to different terrain and weather. It would have the capabilities to fly on destroyers, amphibious landing docks, amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers, undertaking a wide range of tasks including anti-submarine warfare, reconnaissance missions, transportation as well as search and rescue on the high seas, Li said, noting that the helicopter will play an important role in the multidimensional and digitalized battlefield. The Z-20 will help the Navy reach a higher level of effectiveness, Li noted.

The helicopter is seen by many military enthusiasts as a member of China's most advanced "20 series" aircraft, with the others being the J-20 stealth fighter jet, the Y-20 large transport plane and the H-20 strategic bomber. The army version of the Z-20 has reportedly entered trial service, but the alleged commissioning has not yet been officially confirmed.

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