China Tests Autonomous Helicopter Launched from Ship

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  • State media hailed the flight in the port city of Qingdao as a breakthrough that would pave the way for such vehicles to operate in the deep seas
  • Reports hinted at a possible military role but analyst expresses scepticism about its use on the battlefield

A Chinese-made pilotless helicopter has made a successful test flight after lifting off from a ship in the port city of Qingdao, reports SCMP quoting the state broadcaster.

Pilotless helicopter

The test flight of the AR-500BJ, developed by the helicopter research arm of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, paves the way for small autonomous helicopters to operate in the deep seas, CCTV said on Friday.

While state media and Avic have hailed the flight as a significant breakthrough, the aviation giant has not given details of its technology and a military analyst said such autonomous helicopters had few defence applications.

In this demonstration and operation at sea, the AR-500BJ completed smoothly flight items such as surface take-off and landing, marking a new and important breakthrough in the development of this type of unmanned helicopter,” Avic said in a statement on WeChat.

Intended application of the helicopter

The helicopter weighs 500kg (1,102lbs), according to CCTV. The helicopter was equipped with a Chinese-made heavy fuel engine and modified fuel-burning, structural, electric and flight control systems to adapt to the small parking area on a ship.

The helicopter was also designed to withstand “complex electromagnetic environments” – a military situation where electromagnetic signals hamper the ability to monitor the battlefield. But it is not clear what military functions, if any, it might carry out.

The military use of autonomous helicopters is unclear,” said Zhou Chenming, a researcher at the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing. “There’s no clear military use for them, even globally.” He said fixed-winged drones had greater range and speed as well as being cheaper to operate.

The United States Navy has used RQ-8 autonomous helicopters for intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance, but is more reliant on smaller, fixed-wing drones such as the ScanEagle designed by Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary.

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Source: SCMP

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