It’s the Harbin Z-20, a China’s newest medium-lift utility helicopter.
Recently, on the Chinese social network appeared the latest images advertising this helicopter. For the first time in history, China has demonstrated the Harbin Z-20 in such a large number.
At first glance, you might think this is an American Black Hawk, but no, it’s the Harbin Z-20, a China’s newest medium-lift utility helicopter, almost indistinguishable from the original version.
According to some sources, China has begun developing this type of helicopter since the early years of the 21st century. Development of the so-called “10-tonne helicopter project” started in 2006, and the Z-20 made its first flight on 23 December 2013. At the 2019 Chinese air show held in Tianjin, for the first time, Chinese Harbin Z-20 helicopters made a public appearance in large numbers. Here, visitors can easily recognize the near-perfect similarity of the Chinese-developed multipurpose helicopter compared to the Black Hawk helicopter currently used by the United States.
Observers said that the reason that China was able to develop this almost perfect clone was because after Hong Kong was returned to China, Beijing has access to S-70 Sikorsky helicopters, were serving in Hong Kong search and rescue operations. This S-70 Sikorsky helicopter is a civilian version of the Black Hawk helicopter, which is currently the most used by the US army. This type of helicopter is supposed to be able to fly as far as Nepal, something that few Chinese helicopters have been able to do so far. Even earlier this year, a few Harbin Z-20 multi-role helicopters were sent to Nepal by China, carrying out transportation, search and rescue missions. Some sources claim that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has purchased 24 Sikorsky S-70-C2s and put them into service in 1984. Sikorsky seems to have licensed the production of this helicopter in China for non-military purposes, but it seems that the Chinese are violating the agreement.
Z-20 will serve in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. The Z-20 will likely find service throughout the People’s Liberation Army. For the People’s Liberation Army Navy, it could fill the role of a multi-role naval helicopter small enough to be interoperable across all chinese vessels while still being able to have a full suite of anti-submarine warfare capabilities installed.
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The design of the Z-20 has an incredible resemblance to the American Black Hawk. The easiest way to identify this Chinese helicopter with the Black Hawk is the engine exhaust and the symbol of the Chinese army on the fuselage. Other differences are the Z-20’s main propeller, which has up to five blades, while the original version only has four blades. The use of five-blade rotors will enable the Z-20 to operate at high altitudes, giving it greater lift. It also has fairings installed aft of the engine exhausts and on the tail spine, which are likely housings for satellite communications or the BeiDou satellite navigation system. The Z-20 is believed to be powered by the domestic WZ-10 turboshaft engine providing 2,145 horsepower, compared to the latest GE T700-701D engine that produces 2,011 horsepower. Some sources report that development of new transmission system has been assisted by Eurocopter. These features enable it to conduct operations at altitudes up to 4,000m.
Similar to the Black Hawk, the Z-20 maintains a two-seat cockpit, a mid-mounted passenger cabin and a twin-engine configuration mounted on top, which controls the main rotor and tail rotor system. The landing wheels and two sliding doors provide access to the passenger area just like on the original Black Hawk version. The Z-20 helicopter accommodates about 12 to 15 fully-equipped troops. It has a payload capacity of around 5t, 1t internally and 4t externally. It can transport various loads, such as vehicles and artillery pieces underslung externally. This helicopter can be armed with machine guns and possibly other weapons, such as anti-tank and air-to-air missiles, or pods with unguided rockets. There is a nose-mounted FLIR turret.
The basic utility helicopter can be modified to suit many military roles. Some sources report that Z-20F marine version of this helicopter is under development. The Z-20F is expected to perform anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue missions, and other shipboard operations on the Chinese Type 055 cruisers and aircraft carriers. The service has operated the smaller and more limited Harbin Z-9, itself a copy of the Eurocopter Dauphin on board its surface combatants.
The successful development of the Harbin Z-20 helicopter shows that China has truly mastered the technology of making the helicopter, with tactical specifications comparable to the most modern UH-60 variants of the US Army.