Transport helicopter takes off from China’s new aircraft carrier as sea trial nears
Military observers say warship’s maiden journey is getting closer
An advanced transport helicopter took off from China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier on Saturday, mainland media reported, another sign that it is being prepared for sea trials.
The Changhe Z-18 helicopter took off from the warship in Dalian, Liaoning province then returned and landed five minutes later, state-run Global Times reported.
Photographs of the chopper in action have been circulated on Chinese social media.
The report came after the Liaoning Maritime Safety Administration announced that the Bohai Strait and an area north of the Yellow Sea would be cordoned off from Friday until May 11 because of military activities. The restricted areas are close to the shipyard in the northeastern province where the new Type 001A aircraft carrier was built.
The notice followed a similar ban on vessels entering the area the previous week, and military observers believed the restrictions were part of preparations for sea trials of the new carrier.
Yue Gang, a military affairs analyst and retired People’s Liberation Army colonel, said the helicopter flight and maritime restrictions indicated the maiden sea trial could happen soon.
“There are a lot of preparations being carried out, they’re getting closer to the first sea trial,” he said.
Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming said aircraft carriers needed large helicopters to transport personnel and heavy equipment.
“A lot of engineers will need to get on and off the carrier, and they’re often right out at sea,” he said. “So they need helicopters big enough for that operation.”
The Z-18 helicopter, developed by Changhe Aircraft Industries Group, can transport up to 4,000kg and accommodates 27 people. During a test flight in Tibet in 2015, it became the first large Chinese helicopter to fly at an altitude of more than 9,000 metres.
The helicopter is also used on the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier – a retrofitted Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov-class vessel that was declared combat ready in November 2016.
Military observers have been watching for signs the new aircraft carrier is about to start sea trials since photos of the ship being moved from its berth by tugboats were published by state media on April 23. A maritime ban on vessels using the area because of military activities was also imposed around that time.
But analysts said there was still more work to be done before the trials could start.
The carrier was launched in April last year, and Zhou, a military commentator on Phoenix Television, said it usually took more than a year to prepare such a ship for sea trials.
He added that China still did not have much experience working with aircraft carriers, and it would take time to coordinate the navy units involved.
The 65,000-tonne warship is powered by eight steam turbines based on the Soviet engines used on the Liaoning.
It took nearly six years for the Liaoning to become fully combat-ready after it entered service in 2012.
Yue said tests on the new aircraft carrier were still needed to make sure different parts of the vessel, including communications, were working well.