The Z-18 is the largest military helicopter ever developed in China
The Z-18 is a new Chinese military transport helicopter. It was developed by Changhe Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG). It evolved from an Avicopter AC313 commercial transport helicopter, which in turn is a version of the Z-8 naval anti-submarine ωλɾʄλɾɛ and utility helicopter.
Prototype of the Aviopter AC313 first flew in 2010. The new military helicopter was first publicly revealed in 2014. Chinese call this helicopter the White Heron. The Z-18 is already in service with Chinese military and is being produced in quantity. It will gradually replace older Z-8 helicopters.
The Changhe Z-18 is based on the Harbin Z-8 design, but has a redesigned fuselage and more powerful engines. As a result the new Z-18 has more internal space, can carry more payload and has overall better performance at higher altitude and temperature. It has been reported that composites and titanium are extensively used in production of this helicopter.
This helicopter can transport up to 4 000 kg internally or 5 000 kg externally. It accommodates about 27 passengers. Alternatively it can carry about 14 stretchers, plus medical attendants.
In the transport role the Z-18 is operated by a crew of 2.
The Z-18 is powered by three WZ-6C turboshaft engines, developing around 1 752 shp each. The original WZ-6 engine is a license-build copy of the French Turbomeca Turmo 3C. It has been reported that Z-18 is fitted with composite rotor blades. It is worth noting that commercial Avicopter AC313 is powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-67A turboshafts, developing 1 940 shp each.
During a test flight in Tibet the Z-18 broke a record by attaining an altitude of 9 000 m and flying above Mount Everest. It is the first time a large helicopter managed to fly that high. It is the second Chinese military helicopter after the Sikorsky S-70C, that can operate in high-altitude regions, particularly the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. This test helicopter also set a speed record of 336 km/h.
The helicopter is fitted with a nose-mounted weather radar and FLIR/TV turret.
Currently the Z-18 can operate only from the largest naval vessels. However China is building more ships, that could embark this helicopter. Tail boom and rotor blades of the naval versions can be folded to save parking space on ships. Landing gear is non-retractable.
Z-18A is an utility variant for the Chinese army. The army version has a further protruding nose section. A terrain-following radar is fitted under the nose. It is expected to replace the old Z-8A.
Electronic ωλɾʄλɾɛ or electronic countermeasures variant. It has large antennas mounted on both sides of the mid-fuselage. This helicopter is used for the battlefield electronic jamming purposes.
Z-18F is a specialized anti-submarine and anti-ship helicopter. Chinese call this helicopter the Sea Eagle. it has a surface search radar under its nose. The FLIR/TV turret was relocated. This helicopter carries a new dipping sonar.
Also it has around 30 openings to release sonobuoys. This version can carry up to 4 lightweight torpedoes or anti-ship missiles. It seems that this helicopter is fitted with a datalink and can target cruise missiles from frigates and destroyer escorts on surface targets that it has detected.
Z-18J naval airborne early warning helicopter. It has been developed for the Chinese navy. Chinese call this helicopter the Bat. It has a redesigned rear door with retractable radar antenna. When not in use the antenna is retracted into the fuselage. This helicopter is stationed onboard the Liaoning aircraft carrier. Prototype of this helicopter was first spotted back in 2009. It could be used as a stop-gap measure, as currently China has no carrier-based early warning aircraft.