China's Changhe Aircraft Industries has delayed the first flight of the new Z-8F heavy helicopter to resolve issues that arose during testing of its Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-67A engines.

Industry sources say the three PT6Bs powering the prototype Z-8F had to be returned to Canada this year, delaying the test programme. Sources say problems were minor and were caused more by flaws with engine start procedures than manufacturing issues.

The Z-8F, derived from the Changzhou WZ6-powered Z-8 military helicopter, was set to fly in late March or early April (Flight International, 2-8 March). Changhe is now reinstalling the three engines, which arrived back in China in June after testing in Canada. Ground tests should resume by the end of this month and, if they go well, will be followed by an early fourth-quarter first flight.

Changhe still aims to deliver the first aircraft to an undisclosed launch customer at year-end, but this will probably be pushed back by several months, depending on how quickly it can complete the flight-test programme. The new 13,000kg (28,600lb) helicopter is being offered to government operators, mainly for search and rescue, as well as for military missions.

Changhe also hopes to launch by year-end a development programme for another variant of the Z-8 equipped with Western rotor blades. Changhe has received technical proposals from AgustaWestland and Eurocopter for a new blade and is awaiting commercial bids. After selecting a partner and negotiating a contract, Changhe aims to begin a joint three- to four-year development effort.

The Wuhan municipal government has signed a letter of intent to add two Enstrom 480B turbine helicopters. Wuhan, which operates an Enstrom 280FX piston, will use the new helicopters on traffic control, medical evacuations and other parapublic missions. Wuhan Helicopter is the only 480B operator in China and plans to open by year-end a long-delayed joint venture final-assembly plant. Enstrom is also seeking to source 480B components from Harbin Aircraft Industries.

Source: Flight International