China Emerges with a Concept of Stealth Variant of Its Z-20 Helicopter


Plot :

China’s eagerness to master stealth (low-observable) technologies could be said to be anything but a secret. 

According to recent reports and pictures that took over the internet, China envisages developing a stealth hawk-like transport helicopter. Whereas, its strategic and border ally Pakistan will aid as a leg-up in the development. Currently, this scale model is just a glimpse of what Z-20 might look like. 


It’s an old practice by China that while having one kind of stealth fighter in service, it has another type under testing and numerous other advanced stealthy drones under development. 

Apparently, it’s a common practice for the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) to work and apply advanced stealth (low observable) design principles, manufacturing processes, and material science to rotary-wing aircraft. 

Why does the Z-20 look like a clone of American Black Hawk?

The creation of Z-20 medium-lift helis happens to be inspired by US black hawks. Back in ‘80s China was a purchaser of US black hawk helicopters. But the selling of Black Hawks to China was seized with the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. After that China initiated its own production of Z-20 helicopters. However, the Z-20s are advancing more rapidly as compared to their American counterparts, the H-60/S-70. The Harbin Aircraft Industries is toiling to evolve the Z-20 into a preeminent multi-service and multi-role flying machine for PLA (People’s Liberation Army) 

The idea of creating Z-20s as a stealthy transport helicopter took zero imagination as the US did the same to its Black Hawks earlier and succeeded. The stealth Hawks made its fame by appearing in an action-filled mission at Laden’s compound in 2011. Those Hawks were a research product that dates back to the dawn of H-60s in US military service. 

Z-20 look like a clone of American Black Hawk

However, American stealth helicopter research’s history predates the aircraft used on multiple fronts before the commissioning of black hawks. These researches for stealthing a helicopter include quieting helicopters and masking the infrared signals, Comanche stealth reconnaissance, stealth kits for existing military helicopters, and attack helicopter programs. The research on stealth helicopters was started during the 2nd half of the 20th century. However, many of these programs were canceled but only after the prototyping tests.  

Back in 2011, when an explosive charge demolished an American black hawk at Laden’s compound, its tail was the only part that was sitting high atop intact on the compound’s surrounding wall. We wouldn’t even have got a chance to learn about the fact that such helicopters existed if it was destroyed. 

However, Pakistan then subsequently carted the tail and used it as the bargaining chip as the aftereffect of the raid. The rear of the stealth black hawk was examined by the strategic and weapon-providing ally of Pakistan (China). However, the tail was returned to the US nearly after a month.

American black hawk
Tail of Black hawk hanging at the Bin Laden’s compound Abbotabad, Pakistan

No wonder that a tail of a helicopter does not give away the whole info of what the heli is capable of, but it still provides many engineering ideas. However, the researchers found that the tail did go through the low observable treatments on inspecting the tail. Furthermore, it consisted of a four-bladed main rotor similar to that of the H-60’s. However, the manufacturing methodologies, material science, and shrouding of tail rotor plus the blade configuration aided the Chinese engineers with gathering a massive amount of highly classified knowledge to achieve their goal of stealthy helicopters

According to some researchers, the tail of a downed Black Hawk upped China’s knowledge about stealth technology. The coating, the structure, and its design were a massive compromise on US defense property.


Henri Henchman spotted that the screenshot was from an Aviation Industry called the Chinese Helicopter Research and Development Institute. This industry is a subsidiary of AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China). Mr Henri runs a website named Eastpendulum related to current affairs and defense news.

The helicopter in the above link/picture can be said to be a stealthy adaptation of China’s Z-20 helicopters.

Earlier, hoaxes spread amongst many that China has been developing low observable helicopter designs for attack and scout purposes. In contrast, the development of a stealth transport helicopter was a less rumored affair. 

As China has its production of Z-20s it can finally jump to replicating the stealthy variant of Black hawks. The defense analysts of the PLA(Public’s Liberation Army) have already considered the importance of the stealth role of a helicopter in extra-territorial missions. 

Why it matters:

The ability to infiltrate into enemy lines clandestinely is one of the enormous advantages. Such abilities are essential for CSAR(Combat Search and Rescue) missions. 

However, a rapid spike in the making of stealth aircraft has caused challenges to CSAR(Combat Search and Rescue) missions. The question here arises that how traditional helicopters survived in areas where some of the most advanced stealth fighters couldn’t?

No wonder, stealth aids in reducing risks involved in a mission and could change the mission into a success. Top of it is the capability stealth provides to carry out surprise raids deep inside the adversary’s airspace. These are the points of interest for the PLA (People Liberation Army) currently. For example, seizing Taiwan could be executed successfully with the aid of stealth helicopters. This may be another reason why the PLA sees the rapid production of stealth helicopters as an essential component of such a plan.   

Coming towards the features that stand out in the Z-20 stealth variant are as follows.

  • Trapezoidal airframe, which is as similar to the US’s early design of Stealth Hawk studies 
  • The shrouded main rotor hub which resembles to US stealthy Hawk’s ( five blades instead of the H-60/S-70’s four blades)
  • The exhaust seems to be ducted into the tail boom (extended tail boom) to avoid infrared signature. 
  • The blades are cranked from the tips.
  • The tail is less intricate than that of the American variant of stealth Hawk. The reason for such a design is still unknown. Maybe it could be because the actual tail design is too sensitive to display in such a forum or may be concerned with the radar signature reduction.

However, if we discuss the tail rotor design, the reason why it is designed this way is to avoid the acoustic signature reduction. The tail rotors could be too noisy sometimes that’s why hiding from radar becomes difficult for a simple helicopter.

The counterblast :

No wonder it takes a hoard of information and development to produce something stealthy like the Z-20, but that isn’t the case for China. The reasons for this statement is that of China’s espionage strategies, specifically in the Cyber domain, as China has pilfered massive secrets of American aerospace for many decades.

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