It was around this time last year that China unveiled a new attack helicopter developed by AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry. The new model Z-19E (also called AH-19E) rose to the skies for the first time last May, with audiences from the whole country watching the big event from state television channels. The flight was arranged in Harbin, Heilongjiang in the northeastern part of China at the Harbin Airport.
Black Whirlwind, as the helicopter is informally called, took off and performed a few basic, low-speed maneuvers, showing off its shiny dark blue surface and massive body over the airfield. The liftoff was carried out with a gun pod and eight massive white missiles onboard, plus a launch canister for HVARs, high-velocity aircraft rockets. The pilots of the helicopter are accommodated in the rear end of Z-19E, and the front seats are reserved for a weapons operator. A spacious tandem cabin with double seating allows a great line of vision for both team members operating the missiles and the vehicle itself.
State news agencies described AH-19E as the latest tandem seat, narrow body military helicopter model. Also, the same source called the Black Whirlwind the first attack helicopter in China specifically made for export. The military vehicle has been designed with the current requirements of the foreign markets in mind. Depending on the import/export restrictions, pricing, and capabilities, the new Z-19E may be in high demand in a few markets that do not manufacture their own attack helicopters. For example, the model could potentially become a hit in Africa and Asian/Middle-eastern countries.
Chief designers at AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry say the Z-19E can be used for battlefield support . The helicopter is built for a wide range of military missions, and it may be deployed both during the day and night. However, the main function of the Black Whirlwind is attacking armored ground vehicles, such as heavyweight tanks and other ground targets. The helicopter is designed to fly at low altitude for precision and effectiveness in such missions.
Another distinctive feature of the helicopter model is the Fenestron, a shaft driven, protected rotor assembly on the tail end of the vehicle. compared to the regular external tail rotor, a big advantage of this is quieter operation. The Fenestron contributes to the helicopter’s audible stealth when moving, which may be an important factor in battle. The only significant downside is it costs more to manufacture and is heavier, making the final model less maneuverable. Still, the Fenestron is a recent innovation in the field of tail rotor construction, and the fact AH-19E uses it to improve its battle characteristics puts it in one line with other notable aircraft that use the same technology. A few examples of various other aircraft that use this technology are the HH-65C Dolphin used by the Coast Guard in the United States, Kamov Ka-60 manufactured in Russia, and the Kawasaki OH-1 model, a light helicopter used primarily for attack or observation.
The Z-19E is meant to be a replacement for the WZ-10, or CAIC Z-10, the primary Chinese attack helicopter made by Russian designers. This model is much older in appearance and less modern than the Black Whirlwind. Its tail rotor is external, thus making a louder noise than AH-19E when moving. Its cockpit arrangement is also similar to that of the European Tiger attack helicopters. China ordered the design under a secret agreement with the famous Russian helicopter building company Kamov. Now, with the innovative Z-19E, the country is making a confident first step toward entering the global market of attack choppers.
The helicopter is a part of a major military revamp China started several decades ago. The country’s plans were quite ambitious, focusing on quality over quantity and the powerful state is pouring billions of dollars in this endeavor to ensure success. In the past, the Chinese military, the largest in the world, has developed new equipment and tactics to replace the old.
Z-19E is not only a big step forward in domestic development but also an opportunity to enter new foreign markets. Song Zhongping, a military expert, told the Global Times the helicopter has strong market potential and is compatible with other countries’ existing systems. It meets international standards and even has an English interface. Z-19E may soon become part of the military of other countries outside China, too as it’s still in production to date.
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