The 13.8-ton AC313 marks China’s latest aerospace breakthrough, but Canadian-made engines shows the country still lacks key expertise
BEIJING—Canadian-built Pratt & Whitney engines will power China’s latest aerospace innovation, the 13.8 ton AC313 super helicopter.
China’s civil aviation authority has cleared the country’s biggest-ever helicopter for domestic use, according to state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
China Flying Dragon Aviation, an airline which flies cargo and passenger charter flights and does utility work such as fighting forest fires plans to lease the first five AC313s produced.
AVIC says it will apply for U.S. and European certification to allow foreign sales, but hasn’t said when it will do so.
The AC313 is also the latest example of China’s adaptation of foreign technology that has facilitated numerous breakthroughs in its aviation industry.
The aircraft is a larger and heavily modified version of the 7-ton Zhi-8 medium transport helicopter—a close copy to France’s SA 321 Super Frelon. China bought 13 of the French helicopters in the 1970s and at least one was reportedly disassembled for study and reverse-engineering.
However, Pratt & Whitney engines underscore China’s weakness in that key technology.
AVIC says the aircraft is capable of everything from search and rescue missions to sightseeing and can operate in harsh conditions with a maximum range of 900 kilometres at altitudes of almost 28,000 feet. It can carry up to five tons of cargo in a sling along with 27 passengers or 15 injured on stretchers.
AVIC has been the linchpin in China’s aviation push, building latest-generation fighter jets and midrange commercial airliners. It is now working on a larger plane that would compete with Airbus and Boeing.
The AC313 isn’t the world’s biggest helicopter. That title goes to a Russian-built behemoth known as the Mi-26, which weighs in at 56 tons.