China’s Response to U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift: Ambitious High-Speed Helicopter Blueprint Unveiled
China appears to be embarking upon an ambitious, long-term plan to keep pace with U.S. advances in helicopter technology by emphasizing speed; stealth; and innovative, next-generation designs.
The developer of China’s mainstay Z-10 helicopter specifically cited the advanced speeds of the V-22 Osprey and SB-1 Defiant helicopter, saying “within 10 years, it will be the norm for helicopters, or rotorcraft in general, to feature high speed,” according to the Chinese government-backed Global Times newspaper.
The Chinese paper cites the benchmark of 300 miles per hour, a speed which Bell Helicopters’ now-operational V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft has repeatedly demonstrated. For years, the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program has been building a new generation of rotorcraft designs, weapons, and propulsion systems. Thus, it appears that the Chinese will have to cover significant ground to catch up with the U.S. Army’s high-speed helicopter technology.
“Unlike the traditional configuration of previous helicopters, the new ones will have very different designs, including those that were made to break the physical speed limit of about 300 kilometers an hour restricted by the traditional design. … It will require exploration and innovation by helicopter designers to achieve high speeds while maintaining the vertical takeoff and landing capabilities,” Wu Ximing, the deputy head of the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment and chief designer of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Z-10 attack helicopter, told the Global Times.
Wu also reported that the PLA will unveil new high-speed helicopter designs in about ten years, whereas the United States already has several airborne compound configuration rotorcraft in its FVL program with Bell’s V-280 Valor and Lockheed-Sikorsky-Boeing’s Defiant. Each of these new U.S.-industry offerings, now competing in the Army’s FVL selection program, are engineered to reach unprecedented speeds while preserving an ability to maneuver, hover, and operate close to uneven terrain with new levels of agility.
The V-280 Valor helicopter, for example, can reach speeds greater than 300 knots when in airplane mode using engines and a fixed-wing configuration, yet also hover and maneuver like a helicopter at high speeds using its two wing-mounted rotor blades for vertical take-off and landing.
The Global Times reports that China is working on several designs, but offers no detail as to their relative state of maturity or what kind of performance they exhibited in test flights.
“China’s helicopter makers have reportedly conducted test flights for at least two types of helicopters with innovative designs: one is a blended-wing body multi-rotor vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, the other is a helicopter with a completely different, innovative design,” the Global Times writes.
In contrast, the U.S. FVL program is already featuring two mature, nearby-operational airborne models that are currently being evaluated by the Army. It would not be surprising if China continued to look toward the United States as it endeavors to carve its path for future helicopters.