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The first flight of the Avicopter AC352 medium twin took place on Dec. 20 in Harbin, China, 15 months after the first public appearance of the prototype and following many postponements since 2011. The milestone marks a further step in China’s endeavor to create its own helicopter industry, as the country has so far been mostly used to manufacturing rotorcraft under license agreements.
The AC352 is the Chinese counterpart of the in-service Airbus Helicopters H175, as they were developed under a 50-50 partnership. Airbus Helicopters’ logo is visible on the prototype. The aircraft seems to be aerodynamically identical, apart from the engines’ installation, to the H175. A hoist attached to the right side of the fuselage may indicate Avicopter wants to test the aircraft in a search-and-rescue configuration, early in the program.
The main difference is the engine, as Safran Helicopter Engines is providing a pair of Ardiden 3Cs in lieu of Pratt & Whitney PT6C-67Es. The Ardiden 3C is understood to be rated at approximately 1,800 shaft horsepower (shp), slightly more than the 1,775-shp PT6C-67E. Safran claims its turboshaft burns 10 percent less fuel than its competitor.
The Ardiden 3C is also known as the WZ16, as it has been jointly developed by Safran Helicopter Engines, CAPI and Dongan, parts of the new Aero Engine Corporation of China (AECC) consortium. Safran defined the engine’s architecture, while Dongan has developed the compressor and various parts, a Safran expert explained to Vertical. The engine partnership is both about development and production.
The AC352 is equipped with the same Helionix avionics suite and four-axis autopilot as its European counterpart. Representatives from both Airbus and Safran attended the first flight. “We will continue our cooperation toward the goal of engine certification at an early date,” said Qin Yuchun, president of AECC Dongan.
The WZ16 is expected to be the first helicopter engine certified in parallel by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The EASA certification for the Ardiden 3C is expected by the end of 2017, and the CAAC certification for the WZ16 in 2018.
According to Chinese media, Avicopter is planning on delivering the first AC352 in 2018. At China Helicopter Expo in Tianjin in 2015, the company announced oil-and-gas operator Citic Offshore Helicopter is the launch customer.
Airbus and Avicopter have shared the program but certification efforts, customer support networks and marketing areas are distinct. An agreement was signed to allow Avicopter to sell the AC352 in China and a small number of neighboring countries. However, Airbus received an order last year from Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service for seven H175s.