Monday, June 28, 2010

Korea Utility Helicopter Soars Up to the Sky

The maiden test flight of Korea's first utility helicopter Surion was conducted at the Korea Aerospace Industries on June 22 in Sacheon, South Chungcheong.

The helicopter flew in the sky for about 20 minutes, beginning with flying in the same place 100 feet above the ground. It also turned its direction 30 degrees to each left and right side. The chopper showed its rapid maneuvering capabilities by spinning around 360 degrees.

With two pilots and one technician on board, the flying performance showed its soaring, stationary hovering, S-shaped maneuvering and diving.

The helicopter's name combines "suri" meaning eagle and "on" meaning perfection.

The improved performance followed Surion's maiden flight on March 10 when a 8.7-metric-ton aircraft demonstrated a stationary hover at 30 feet about seven months after its rollout.

The performance is organized to introduce the process of making the chopper and elevate people's interest toward the helicopter. It also aims to boost credibility of domestic technology of making helicopter toward foreign countries in order to lay a ground work for exporting the product in the future.

"Despite the fact that our military ranks [seventh] in the world in operating the number of military helicopter, we have been relying on foreign countries in importing major technologies in developing functions and maintenance," said Byun Moo-keun, the Commissioner of Defense Acquisition Program Administration, in his speech on behalf of Korea's Defense Minister Kim Tae-young. "The successful development of Surion has not only led in operating the military tactics efficiently but also formed the basis in improving our own aerospace industry technology."

Byun also said Korea's defense capabilities could improve if other helicopter projects are implemented without problems.

The test flights will continue through September before initial production of the helicopter. Mass production is to begin by March 2012.

The government and private firms have poured a combined 1.3 trillion won ($1 billion) into the aircraft’s development since it began in 2006. South Korea has produced propeller-driven [aircraft] and supersonic jets in the past, but the Surion makes it one of only 11 countries in the world to turn out an indigenous helicopter.

Helped by Europe’s leading helicopter manufacturer, Eurocopter, Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. and other local companies designed the Surion, with 60 percent of all parts and components being made in the country. Officials have stressed the Surion’s ability to serve in both defense and civilian roles is significant in terms of potential growth.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy, which contributed heavily to the project, said the aircraft will help South Korea make inroads into the fiercely competitive global aerospace market. In addition to the prototype, three other aircraft will be built to conduct various flight safety tests. Full-scale production is to begin in June 2012.

South Korea’s aging fleet of UH-1Hs and 500MD choppers, many of which have been in service for over 30 years, are set to be phased out. Independent sources speculate the South Korean military may require as many as 250 Surion choppers. Seoul also aims to win 300 overseas military orders for the KUH during the next 25 years, a government official said. That is roughly 30 percent of the projected global demand for Surion-type choppers, which are larger than the UH-1 Iroquois but smaller than the UH-60 Black Hawks.

The Surion is designed to fly a fully equipped squad of troops or an equal amount of equipment for two hours. It can climb 152 meters per minute and maintain a stable hover at 3,000 meters. Special emphasis was placed in the design on meeting variable combat conditions needed to ensure the survival of the crew.

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