With China's massive industrial growth in recent decades, its defense industry has flourished with a range of ongoing projects and many more on the horizon. No longer content with being a military purchaser (primarily from the Soviet Union/Russia), its military-industrial complex has taken on exceedingly more complex programs - from Fifth generation fighter aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to full-fledged Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) and infantry assault weapons. AVICopter, a state-owned defense concern with origins as far back as 1951, began work on a new light helicopter design in 2009 which has become the AC311 product today.
The foundation for the AS311 program was formed decades before when Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAIC) began illegally copying the French Aerospatiale/Eurocopter AS350 "Ecureuil" (meaning "Squirrel") as the "Z-11". The original French design was developed in the 1970s and introduced during 1975 before entering service with a plethora of global operators including Australia, Brazil, and Jordan. Work on a more localized version - the Z-11 - was started in China in 1989 and development eventually produced a workable system which first flew in late 1994. Introduction was in 1998 to which several versions of this light design eventually emerged for military service - including an armed, light attack platform.
From this work then blossomed the modern AC311 series, its appearance not unlike the lines regularly encountered in light-class French helicopters. The aircraft features a largely glassed frontal section for excellent vision out of the cockpit. A small cabin area is situated aft of the cockpit and under the single engine installation found along the cabin roof. The tail stem originates from a low part of the cabin body and houses a shaft used to drive a tail rotor affixed to the starboard side of the vertical tail fin. The main rotor is a three-bladed assembly. As only one engine is featured in the design, only a single jet pipe is seen over the tail stem. First flight was in 2011. The engine is an American Honeywell LTS101-700D-2 turboshaft driving the three-bladed main rotor and two-bladed tail rotor.
The AC311 program has since evolved by way of a new engine installation, a revised main rotor, and improved flight controls which has produced the AC311A variant. The mark also includes largely Chinese avionics and comes in some 100lbs heavier than the original model. Development of the new mark began in August of 2013 and the engine of choice became the French Turbomeca Arriel 2B1A turboshaft (based on a 2011 agreement between the French engine maker and AVIC). First flight of the AC311A was announced in August of 2014.
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