China’s new AR-500C unmanned helicopter is carrying out high-altitude trials at the Daocheng Yading Airport in Tibet, according to reports.
At 4,411 m (14,472 ft) above sea level, Daocheng Yading is the highest civilian airport in the world. With the test flights, AR-500C become the first unmanned helicopter that can successfully take off and land at the airport.
The low air density, large temperature difference between day and night, and complex terrain and weather of the region pose huge challenges to the flight control, flight safety and flight performance of unmanned helicopters. Due to this, the AR-500C is installed with a high performance engine and rotor system.
The testing came amid the increased tensions between China and India in the mountainous Ladakh border region. If these new drones are deployed for reconnaissance and resupply missions in support of the border forces, it will be a big shot in the arm for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The AR-500C (also AR500C) is developed by China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) based on its AR-500B unmanned helicopter. The helicopter made its maiden flight in Poyang in East China’s Jiangxi Province on May 20 this year.
The UAV is visually similar to Austria’s Schiebel Camcopter S-100 and Sweden/Switzerland’s UMS Skeldar V-200 unmanned helicopters.
According to AVIC, the AR500C’s main missions include reconnaissance and communication relay, but when equipped with additional devices, it can also run electronic disruption, target indication, fire strike, cargo delivery and nuclear radiation and chemical contamination reconnaissance.
As China’s first unmanned helicopter designed to fly in plateau areas, the AR500C is claimed to be able to take off at an elevation of 5,000 meters and has a ceiling of 6,700 meters. It has an endurance of five hours, a maximum speed of 170 kilometers an hour, and a maximum takeoff weight of 500 kilograms.
AVIC is also developing other types of unmanned helicopters including other AV500 variants such as the AV500W armed reconnaissance variant which can carry bombs and machine guns.