Two of China’s aerospace products make their international debut at Singapore Airshow 2024

Two of China’s aerospace products make their international debut at Singapore Airshow 2024
"Two of China’s aerospace products make their international debut at Singapore Airshow 2024"

The global airline industry is set to grow post-Covid-19, with a “full recovery” expected starting this year.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that industry net profits this year could reach US$25.7 billion, up from US$23.3 billion in 2023.

While international demand for air travel was 88.3 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels last year, the outlook for the longer term remains “positive”.

The Asia-Pacific region is expected to account for about half of the expected global passenger traffic in 2024, IATA added.

That’s certainly great news for commercial aircraft manufacturers who are pulling out all the stops to showcase their products at Singapore Airshow 2024, which kicked off today. The aerospace showcase ends this Sunday.

More than 1,000 companies from 50 nations are part of the event, with 48 aircraft on static display. Eight aerobatic teams – the largest number by far in the series’ history – will put up two flying demos, daily. A total of 50,000 trade visitors are taking part, and the two public days are expected to bring in double that number.

One of the strongest representations at the airshow will be from China, showcasing its once-nascent but now maturing aerospace industry. Singapore Airshow 2024 will mark the international debut of China’s cutting-edge technologies.

At the forefront is the single-aisle, twin-engined COMAC C-919 medium-haul jetliner that is expected to challenge the market dominance enjoyed by Airbus with its A320 series, and Boeing, with its 737s.

The C-919’s development programme began in 2008. Work on the first prototype started in December 2011, and Airplane No. 1 was rolled out on Nov 2, 2015. The prototype first flew on May 5, 2017. On Sept 29, 2022, the C-919 received its type certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The first production airframe was delivered to China Eastern Airlines on Dec 9, 2022, and put into commercial passenger service on May 28, 2023.

Two aircraft are at the show, with one a company demonstrator, and the other on static display, from China Eastern Airlines. So far, the C-919 is only certificated in China, but COMAC officials are reported to be aiming for the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification next, which would increase its chances for acceptance outside of China.

On the defence side, China will display its latest attack helicopter, the home-grown Z-10ME Fierce Thunderbolt, from Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation (CAIC). This also marks the type’s international debut.

Looking uncannily like the Italian AgustaWestland A-129 Mangusta, the Z-10ME is the export version of the Z-10, which has been in service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for about a decade.

It features a conventional attack helicopter layout of tandem seating in stepped cockpits, with the gunner in the front cockpit and the pilot in the rear seat.

The Z-10 is powered by two WZ-9 series turboshaft engines, developing 1,350 shaft horsepower (shp) each. These engines are based on the Pratt & Whitney Canada civilian design, the PT6C-67C.

Pratt & Whitney Canada supplied the Chinese with the necessary software to convert these commercial engines to ‘military-grade’ systems. AgustaWestland helped design the helicopter’s transmiss.

It also features a full-authority digital engine control (FADEC) unit that gives the helicopter ‘carefree’ handling across all power regimes. The unit was reportedly supplied by the American company Hamilton Sundtrand.

Classified as a medium attack helicopter, the Z-10 has a dash speed of over 300kph, and a range of 800km.

It is bristling with sensors and weapons, including a chin-mounted 23mm cannon. One unique feature of the Z-10 is that the chain gun is configurable – operators can switch between the 23mm cannon and a 30mm cannon, a 40mm automatic grenade launcher, or a 14.5mm Gatling gun, depending on the mission requirements.

Targeting is through a nose-mounted sensor array, like the TADS/PNVS (targeting and designation system/pilot night vision system), that’s ‘slaved’ to the crew’s head movements.

The Z-10 is fitted with four hardpoints or weapons pylons that can be fitted with various air-launched, anti-tank, wire-guided missiles such as the HJ-8, HJ-9, and HJ-10. It can also carry air-to-air missiles for self-defence, comprising the TY-90, PL-5, PL-7, and PL-9 heat-homers.

Unguided rockets to tackle armour and ‘soft’ targets include the 70mm FS70B, or the GR5 guided version, fitted in pods on the stub pylons.

Another unique feature of the Z-10 is its mast-mounted, YH millimetre-wave fire-control radar, similar to the Longbow radar fitted to the AH-64D/E variants of the Apache.

The Z-10 is also fitted with a Blue-Sky navigation/targeting pod, while later models are equipped with the YH-96 electronic warfare (EW) suite to enhance combat survivability. Both gunner and pilot are fitted with night-vision capable optics on their helmets.

Among the ordnance on display next to the Z-10ME at Singapore Airshow are the CM-502KG air-to-surface missile, and TY-90 air-to-air missiles. Also laid out are belts of 23mm high-explosive incendiary ammunition. It is believed that besides the PLA, the the Pakistan armed forces also uses the Z-10.

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