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Harbin Z-8

Maritime Multirole Navy Transport Helicopter

Harbin Z-8

Maritime Multirole Navy Transport Helicopter


The Harbin Z-8 is the French-originated Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon medium-lift multirole hauler operated by the Chinese military today.
National Flag Graphic
YEAR: 1976
STATUS: Active, In-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Aerospatiale - France / Harbin - China

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Harbin Z-8 model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 75.62 feet (23.05 meters)
WIDTH: 62.01 feet (18.9 meters)
HEIGHT: 21.82 feet (6.65 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 15,135 pounds (6,865 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 28,660 pounds (13,000 kilograms)
ENGINE: 3 x Turbomeca Turmu IIIC turboshaft engines developing 1,570 horsepower each and driving a six-bladed main rotor blade and five-bladed tail rotor.
SPEED (MAX): 171 miles-per-hour (275 kilometers-per-hour; 148 knots)
RANGE: 634 miles (1,020 kilometers; 551 nautical miles)
CEILING: 10,335 feet (3,150 meters; 1.96 miles)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 1,315 feet-per-minute (401 meters-per-minute)

Civilian models unarmed. ASW models cleared to carry aerial torpedoes for the sub-hunting/ship-hunting role.
Graphical image of an aircraft aerial torpedo

Series Model Variants
• Z-8 - Base Series Designation; based in the Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon from France.
• Z-8A - Transport variant developed for Chinese Army; entering service in February of 1999; limited production.
• Z-8S - Search and Rescue (SAR) model; equipped with hoist, FLIR turret, and searchlight for at-sea rescues.
• Z-8K - Upgraded SAR platform for PLAAF.
• Z-8KA - Upgraded SAR platform for PLAAF.
• Z-8JH - Maritime model for the PLAN with surface-search radar, dipping sonar, and aerial torpedo support.
• AC313 - Civilian market development of the Z-8 with seating for 27 passengers.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Harbin Z-8 Maritime Multirole Navy Transport Helicopter.  Entry last updated on 12/21/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Harbin Z-8 is nothing more than the French-originated Aerospatiale SA321 "Super Frelon" medium-lift, multi-role helicopter in Chinese military service. The Chinese received about dozen units from the French during the latter-half of the 1970s and pressed them into the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Search And Rescue (SAR) roles. As such, they became the first in-service Chinese helicopters to be capable of operating from moving warships which broadened the tactical value of its surface fleet considerably. Beyond the stock received from French industry, the series has also been produced locally under the Harbin brand label.

The civilian market form of the Z-8 is the 27-seat AC313, developed locally by AviCopter.

The Z-8 retains the form and function of its French counterpart. It is equipped with a radar fit for the ASW role where it is called on regularly to conduct submarine-hunting exercises. A dipping sonar also aids in this action. To engage a submarine or surface vessel threat, the helicopter can carry anti-submarine/anti-ship torpedoes externally.

Beyond its hunter role, the Z-8 is also outfitted for SAR duty by way of hoist-and-basket, FLIR (Forward-Looking InfraRed), and powerful searchlight in the "Z-8S" variant. This allows the helicopter to operate over-water and reclaim downed pilots or seaman as needed. Stability by way of a steady hand at the controls and an effective autopilot system aid in these types of actions. This version appeared in late-2004 and remains in active service with the PLAN. The "Z-8K" and "Z-8KA' designations represent modernized SAR forms. The "Z-8JH" is a specialized MEDEVAC variant.

The inherent over-water capabilities of this helicopter, and its support by the existing fleet of Chinese Navy warships, also lets it participate in ship-to-shore amphibious assault operations. In Army service, this role is fulfilled by the "Z-8A" which entered service in late-2002 (to operate alongside existing Russian-made Mil Mi-8V5 transports).

Some of the Z-8 stock have been modernized in key ways during the course of their service lives including changes to the avionics fit, engines, and cockpit.

The base Z-8 design incorporated three turboshaft engines for the power needed and these output 1,570 horsepower per unit, driving a six-bladed main rotor blade assembly and a five-bladed tail rotor assembly (facing portside). The fuselage is deep with the nose section covered over in framed windscreens. The radar unit protrudes forward through its blister assembly at the nose. The helicopter relies on a tricycle wheeled undercarriage that is retractable and the outboard sponsons operate as floats allowing the helicopter to land on water for water-rescues operations. The cabin includes side-by-side seating for the two pilots, room for a flight engineer, and enough space to seat passengers, support rescue equipment or patient litters. The hold can also double as a cargo area to which point the helicopter can serve in the at-sea replenishment role. Its versatility goes beyond this for the platform can also be pressed into service during humanitarian crisis' as well as in the fire-fighting role.

The Z-8 series is set to be succeeded by the incoming fleet of advanced Harbin "Z-20" medium-lift haulers - no doubt influenced by the American Sikorsky UH-60 "Black Hawk" line. The program began around 2006 and a prototype of this form saw a first-flight on December 23rd, 2013 with formal service introduction announced in 2018. This addition is notable in that it utilizes an indigenous Fly-by-Wire (FbW) digital control system as well as local engines (W-10 turboshafts).


December 2018 - Its is known that Z-8 helicopters have been operating on the deck of China's sole aircraft carrier, Liaoning. The carrier is set to be joined by another such ship type soon.

Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (171mph).

Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Harbin Z-8's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production (50)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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