PICTURES: China's AC313 helicopter has first flight and secures launch customer

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Chinese state-owned helicopter manufacturer Avicopter flew its AC313 helicopter on 18 March from its Jingdezhen facility in eastern China's Jiangxi province.

The triple-engined 13.8t AC313 is a development of the Harbin Z-8 military helicopter, itself a 1980s derivative of the Aerospatiale SA321 Super Frelon that was first flown in 1962.

The Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-67A-powered aircraft is the largest helicopter that China has developed to date and Avicopter says it fills a gap in the country's helicopter product line.

 © Avicopter

The AC313 is pitched against the AgustaWestland AW101, Sikorsky S-92, Mil Mi-38 and Mi-17. It can seat up to 27 passengers and two crew, has a maximum range of 900km (485nm) and is designed for transport, cargo, search and rescue, fire-fighting, offshore exploration and medical evacuation missions, Avicopter says.

Chinese operator Flying Dragon Special Aviation will take delivery of the first of five AC313s following certification, which is earmarked for 2011.

Avicopter says it will then apply for European and US validation.

Meanwhile, China has been holding discussions with Russian Helicopters about developing a 20t heavylift helicopter. The country's commitment to this project has been reaffirmed by Zhang Hongbiao, director of Chinese aerospace company AVIC's science and technology committee and former president of AVIC II.

 © Avicopter