China's top unmanned helicopter, the AV500, has successfully conducted its first night operation under challenging conditions, demonstrating its any-time, all-terrain capabilities, a result which Chinese analysts said on Thursday might increase the possibility for the Chinese military to put it into service and attract overseas buyers.
An AV500 took off and flew toward sea in a headwind of 15 meters per second at midnight on June 14 in South China's Hainan Province. During the nighttime mission, the drone helicopter successfully located its target vessel with its electro-optical pod and transferred back clear infrared visuals, read a statement the helicopter department of the state-owned Aviation Industry of China (AVIC), the maker of the AV500, released on Wednesday.
During its flight, the AV500 overcame challenging environments including strong winds and high salinity and humidity, AVIC said in the statement, noting the operation proved the drone helicopter's capability to operate at night.
In 2017, the company flew the AV500 in Northwest China's Gansu Province, as it climbed to an altitude of 5,006 meters, a record for a domestically developed helicopter drone.
Through these tests, the AV500 has shown outstanding environmental adaptability and strong reliability, a military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Thursday, noting that these characteristics could make the unmanned helicopter attractive to both domestic and international clients.
A drone helicopter could conduct patrol, reconnaissance, damage evaluation and attack missions for the military. It could also be deployed on missions relating to anti-terrorism, firefighting and disaster evaluation, the expert said.
AV500W, an armed reconnaissance variant of the AV500, successfully conducted a missile firing test in 2018, making it combat ready, AVIC said earlier.
It can carry a 175-kilogram payload and fly at a maximum speed of 170 kilometers an hour carrying laser-guided missiles or machine guns, the company said.
The AV500 also took part in a military exercise at the invitation of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and conducted a mock assault mission, China Aviation News reported in September 2018.
Since the PLA does not seem to have helicopter drones in service, it might consider adding one, the military expert suggested, noting that a helicopter drone is more flexible and offers unique advantages over traditional fixed wing drones.