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Chinese aerospace industry’s advance on the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) sector appears to be gaining momentum. On Dec. 31, 2011, Chinese publication Jinyang Yangcheng Evening News reported that the South China University of Technology has developed its “first unmanned maritime surveillance helicopter” under contract from Guangdong Province and China’s Marine Surveillance Corps. The report claimed that the rotorcraft is already operational and can take off and land vertically using both land and seaborne platforms and perform coast patrol and sea observation missions. The UAV reportedly has a maximum level speed of 49 knots, but normally cruises at 27 knots.

Although the Chinese industry has long been experimenting with unmanned helicopters, it does not seem to have won any orders from local customers until very recently. Evidently, the companies concerned had been starting to wonder whether there really was a viable business model for these programs.

Dozens of new UAV designs were exhibited at Airshow China 2010 in Zhuhai and then at Aviation Expo 2011 in Beijing in September 2011. The Beijing show featured no fewer than six unmanned helicopters–some were mockups but some were fully operational examples. The exhibitors also published details of many other UAV programs that they have in the works.