China's PLA gives rare demo of helicopter

Journalists from all over the world were given a rare performance by China's attack helicopters on Tuesday.

The Army Aviation 4th Helicopter Regiment hosted 160 reporters, including 118 from 66 overseas media outlets, at its base in Beijing's Tongzhou district in a gesture of military transparency.

It is the first time the People's Liberation Army regiment has opened its doors to foreign media.

"The Chinese military is very transparent," said Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense. "Through your cameras and reports, we hope to let more people see this unit.

"We will continue organizing such visits," he said, adding it is the fifth such media event since 2008.

Formed in 1988, the elite regiment is the first armed helicopter unit of the PLA. In the past three years it has hosted military delegations from Japan, Thailand and Australia.

On a sun-baked parking apron, the regiment's aircraft, including the Chinese-made Z-9WZ armed helicopters and a Russian Mil Mi-171 transport helicopter, were on display.

Pilots also performed stunts in four Z-9WZ helicopters.

According to military experts, army aviation is increasingly important for China's military strength. While other units of the PLA have been cut back in recent years, the aviation unit has been expanding, even establishing flight schools.

Major Zhang Zhilin, regiment commander, said the regiment has been expanding its training priority from basic training for new pilots, to a program encompassing training of commanders, instructors and lead pilots.

Training has also started to include highly tactical subjects.

"Now our program includes training in live-fire in attack helicopters and using night vision goggles," he said.

The regiment is also trained in anti-terrorism, security and emergency rescue and disaster relief.

The regiment has participated in some 100 non-combat military operations, Zhang said, including providing security for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, retrieval of all nine Shenzhou spacecrafts, and rescue work after the Wenchuan earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 people in 2008.

"Experiences from these missions will supplement our daily training and test our wartime capability," he said.

The regiment's officers and soldiers are particularly proud of their equipment upgrades.

Major Liu Zeqiang, 48, has served in army aviation for more than 20 years. In his view the biggest change for the regiment is that all armed helicopters are now Z-9WZ helicopters manufactured in China.

The helicopter, with a maximum cruising speed of nearly 300 kilometers per hour, has replaced imported Gazelle attack helicopters.

"Now all parts of the Z-9WZ are manufactured in China. It guarantees our training will not be interrupted by a shortage of parts," he said.

Liu and regiment commander Zhang said they expect more locally developed equipment will be used in army aviation units in the future.

"It's like driving cars. When you have a BMW, you may also look to Audi and other car models," Zhang said. "Our task is to develop the ability that allows us to make the best use of the equipment."

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