Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation of China began local-license production of the French Aerospatiale AS365 Dauphin in 1981 as the Harbin Z-9 (NATO: "Haitun"). The original AS365 - a multirole helicopter - was developed in the early 1970s and saw its first flight in 1975 to which serial production began in 1978. A militarized version then appeared as the AS565 "Panther" which considerably broadened the type's reach on the battlefield. Initial Z-9s were produced in China from kits delivered by Aerospatiale and was formally introduced into service with Chinese military forces in 1994. Subsequent production has seen the series reach 200 examples including a dedicated armed attack variant known as the "Z-9WZ". The AS365 is now associated with the Eurocopter brand label as Aerospatiale became defunct in July of 2000.
The Chinese Z-9 retains much of the appearance of its French counterpart, proving the design sound and robust. The fuselage is well streamlined with the two-seat cockpit well-ahead in the configuration. Both pilots manage excellent vantage points from their respective side-by-side seating as most of the forward panels are transparent, allowing for unfettered upward, downward, forward and side-to-side views. The nose assembly is a short rounded cap. Aft of the cockpit is the passenger cabin which is externally dominated by large rectangular windows. The engines are situated atop the cabin and house a pair of turboshaft powerplants driving the four-blade main rotor and a tail rotor shrouded in a Fenestron assembly. The Fenestron assembly works to counter both the inherent torque effect of the main rotor blades (which tend to rotate the aircraft opposite the direction of rotation) and dulls noise levels of the tail rotor to an extent. While effective, Fenestron shrouds tend to be a costlier option than conventional open-air tail rotors. The tail rotor is driven by the engines via a shaft running inside the tail stem. Vertical tail fins are located along the sides of the stem and are extended out via short pylons. There is also a primary vertical tail fin atop the Fenestron shroud, integrated cleanly into the design. The Z-9 features a wheeled tricycle undercarriage that is wholly retractable, the nose landing gear sporting a pair of rubber-tired wheels while each main landing gear leg is assigned one.
The Z-9 is crewed by two personnel as standard with passenger seating for up to 8. The Z-9 can also accept medical litters in a MEDEVAC roles and can haul up to 4,200lb of internal cargo with seating removed. Beyond its transport and passenger-hauling capabilities, the Z-9 has also been developed into an armed helicopter capable of engaging armored vehicles, surface warships, "soft" targets and low-flying aircraft through various munition options along wing stubs aft of the passenger cabin.
After some experience in construction and operation of the original Z-9 mark, the Chinese moved quickly to develop a mostly-indigenous version of the French design. Utilizing up to 70% local Chinese components, the Z-9B variant was unveiled in late 1992, undertaking a successful first flight in November of that year. After some slight changes to the pilot vehicle, serial production was begun in 1993 resulting in its adoption by Chinese Army forces the following year. The Z-9B model differs primarily from the French design by introduction of an 11-blade shrouded tail rotor as opposed to the original's 13-blade assembly. Introduction of the Z-9B quickly superseded the French-minded Z-9 production models.
The Z-9 is powered by a pair of locally-made Zhuzhou Aeroengine Factory WZ-8A turboshaft engines (essentially local copies of the French Turbomeca Arriel) mounted in a side-by-side configuration. Each outputs 848 horsepower which supply the aircraft with a top speed of 190 miles per hour, a ferry range of 620 miles and a service ceiling of 14,700 feet.
Since its inception, the Z-9 has been manufactured or promoted in several marks beginning with the aforementioned baseline Z-9, this based on the AS365N1 Dauphin. The similar Z-9A was then based on the improved AS365N2. The Z-9A-100 was the Chinese-centric pilot vehicle which became the production Z-9B. The AS565 "Panther" is produced by Harbin under the designation of Z-9C and is a navalized anti-ship variant for the Pakistan Navy, outfitted with a dipping sonar array, radar warning receiver (RWR) and support for torpedoes among other needed changes. The Z-9W (also known as the WZ-9) is the dedicated armed version that sports pylons along the sides of the fuselage (aft of the side cabin doors). These pylons can mount various ordnance options as needed (missiles, gun pods, rocket pods, etc.). The Z-9W is exported as the "Z-9G". The Z-9WA brings along support for night vision equipment. The WZ-19 is a stealth attack helicopter version of the Z-9 family and is currently in development. The design features tandem seating for its two pilots and is centered around the dedicated attack function with an applicable countermeasures suite and crew protection when traveling at low altitudes in hostile environments. A prototype of this mark is known to have crashed in September of 2010, undoubtedly a setback for the program as a whole. The H410A introduced the WZ8C powerplants as well as a Mast-Mounted Sight (MMS) which allowed the helicopter to remain partially hidden behind cover while identifying and tracking targets over-the-horizon. The H425 is a passenger-hauling VIP transport based on the H410A mark.
The Z-9 series has seen low export numbers to date, serving Bolivia, Cape Verde, Kenya, Laos, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia and Pakistan. Pakistan is the largest foreign operator of the type with 12 examples in service though of little surprise as both countries maintain a close working military relationship.