The Chinese and Russians have entered into a joint design partnership to produce an all-new very-high-altitude, heavy-lift helicopter. The requested maximum speed is set at 186 miles per hour with a range out to 390 miles. More importantly, engineers have been given the challenge of designing the aircraft with a service ceiling up to 18,696 feet (5,700 meters) capable of reaching the highest points of the rugged Chinese countryside. Gross weight is estimated at 84,200 pounds with possible seating for some sixty passengers. At present, this rotorcraft would be dimensionally smaller than the mammoth Russian Mil Mi-26 "Halo" heavy hauler but larger (and twice as heavy) as the American Boeing CH-47F "Chinook" tandem rotor system of the U.S. military. The Mi-26 is currently the largest helicopter in service anywhere in the world with operators in Russia, India and the Ukraine (among others).
AviCopter of China is heading the Chinese side of the development with the project name being "Advanced Heavy Lifter" (HAL) and its in-service designation becoming "AC332" (formally the "AC3X2"). An early design effort was showcased in September 2015 during the China Helicopter Exposition in Tianjin. The AHL effort is being largely funded by China.
A typical medium-lift helicopter can hover between 10,500 and 14,000 feet maximum before the engine's ability to breath the thinner air restricts further climbing (forward flight reveals a maximum altitude nearer 25,000 feet). In June of 1972, a specially-modified high-altitude Aerospatiale "Lama" helicopter lightweight helicopter achieved 40,814 feet to set a new absolute altitude record. However, the engine flamed out and forced an autorotation landing by the pilot (Jean Boulet of France). With that landing the helicopter also set the world record for longest autorotation period.
China has a history of operating and building both Soviet/Russian and, more recently, French helicopters. With this knowledge, and that offered by Russian engineers, the AC332 is set to take on a most sleek, modern appearance. The main rotor blades, set low over the engine pairing, showcases seven composite blades with swept tips for reduced vibration and drag. The AHL may be outfitted with Russian-originated powerplants of AVIC of China cannot come through with an indigenous offering(the AVIC WZ-20 of 8,000 horsepower output - two would be fitted). The tail-rotor, set along the starboard side of the tail fin, holds a five-bladed rotor system. Despite a separate design phase, the two countries are set to combine this early work to generate the final product.
The Russian design being offered appears as an offshoot of its Mil Mi-26 complete with a twin-engine configuration, seven-bladed main rotor and five-bladed tail rotor set to starboard along the single tail fin featured. Its form largely mimics the in-service heavy-lifter.
Both versions sport a three-point wheeled undercarriage with retractable functionality. Lift capabilities are to be consistent with heavy-lift types for service in civilian sectors (SAR, firefighting, etc...), the construction industry and (possibly) military with an under-slung capability in moving palletized supplies, artillery systems or whole armored vehicles to generally unreachable areas of the world. Additionally, light-class vehicles would fit within the primary hold of the large helicopter.
October 2019 - The AC332 AHL helicopter is nearing launch approval according to industry reports.
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