Maiden flight of AVIC’s new HFE-powered AR-500CJ shipborne UAV


The China Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) division of aerospace prime Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has completed the first flight of its new vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VTOL UAV) intended for service aboard the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s surface vessels such as aircraft carriers.

AVIC stated in a 10 August announcement that the latest development milestone for its rotary-wing AR-500CJ occurred at its Poyang test facility in the south-eastern Jiangxi province on 28 July. The company won a tender in September 2016 to develop a UAV for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), although it did not disclose further details of its proposed design at the time.

The AR-500CJ is an evolution of the AR-500B lightweight shipborne UAV and AR500C high-altitude UAV developed by CHRDI. AVIC claims that the latest variant has been “comprehensively improved” over the earlier models, both of which achieved their respective maiden flights in 2020.

A key distinction of the AR-500CJ is its heavy fuel engine (HFE)-based propulsion system developed by the Wuhu-based Anhui Haery Aviation Power (Haery Power). Haery Power announced on the same day that it has supplied its 150hp-class turbocharged four-stroke Lark HFE powerplant.

According to company specifications, the Lark HFE is a liquid-cooled engine with a dry weight of 98kg and includes features such as full-authority digital electronic control (FADEC), a high-pressure common-rail (HPCR) fuel system, and a mean time before overhaul rating of 2,000 hours.

A HFE propulsion system can use kerosene-based fuels that have a higher flashpoint than regular aviation gasoline, a desirable attribute that contributes to shipboard safety by reducing the likelihood of fire.

Besides the HFE propulsion system, the AR-500CJ also sports a slightly updated airframe design with additional air intakes and a more robust tail boom. During the test flight, the prototype air vehicle was assessed on its ability to take off, hover, initiate forward flight, manoeuvre, and land. It’s ability to recover from a simulated engine failure was also evaluated.

AVIC stated that the maiden flight marked the conclusion of the design and prototyping phase of the AR-500CJ programme and formal transition into the flight-testing phase. The company added that the air vehicle will be used for further trials at various locations through 2023.

The earlier AR500C features a lightweight the carbon fibre reinforced polymer airframe, a more powerful engine, and a new three-bladed main rotor that enables it to attain a service ceiling of 6,700m when deployed from terrain at altitudes of 5,000m above sea level. AVIC also claimed that the air vehicle can operate for up to five hours and achieve a top speed of 170km/h.

In contrast the AR-500B has a maximum take-off weight of 500 kg including 70 kg of stores. Control radius and endurance were quoted as 100 km and up to four hours of operation, with the air vehicle capable of attaining stated cruise and maximum level flight speeds of 120 km/h and 140 km/h, respectively, and a service ceiling of 4,000 m.

CHRDI earlier stated that the AR-500B had been optimised to address the challenges of shipboard operations and features electronic hardening to mitigate electromagnetic interference produced by shipboard equipment, as well as extensive anti-corrosion treatment for critical components. It is also equipped with an automatic landing and take-off capability.

by Jr Ng