Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC), the state-owned military-industrial behemoth, is reportedly teaming up with Russia’s defense industry conglomerate Rostec for the joint development of a new heavy-lift multipurpose helicopter series with a maximum lift-off weight of 40 metric tons.

The new helicopter, dubbed Advanced Heavy Lift, would have a 15-ton payload, a range of 630 kilometers and a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour, according to RT, Russia’s international television network.

Russia’s technical expertise lies in helicopter power transmission systems, and the Mi-26, manufactured by Rostvertol, is one of the most powerful helicopters to have ever gone into series production. It belongs in the 56-ton category.

It is believed the new helicopter will be modeled on the Mi-26, which Rostvertol has just finished upgrading for the Russian Air Force. The helicopter was designed chiefly as a heavy-lift aerial vehicle to transport equipment such as amphibious armored personnel carriers and mobile ballistic missiles to remote locations.

The Mi-26’s spacious cargo bay can carry up to 100 troopers. Photo: Handout

Last month, Russian News Agency TASS quoted Viktor Kladov, a Rostec representative, as saying that the state-backed defense and high tech enterprise was about to sign “the contract of the century” with AVIC and its partners on new helicopter development, after four years of back-and-forth talks.

Kladov also revealed that at least 200 of the new helicopters would be assembled in China with the transfer of Russia’s core aviation technologies under the contract, and AVIC would be tasked with the helicopter’s peripheral design.

Heavy-lift helicopters like the Mi-26 lead a pivotal role in emergency response, like swiftly airlifting heavy cargo and vehicles including artillery and armored vehicles without the need of an airfield.

The Chinese military is in a dire need of more big choppers to give a lift to its preparedness in the event of a military emergency and major natural disasters. The People’s Liberation Army’s current helicopter squadrons comprise mainly medium-sized transporters like the Z-9, Z-20 and Mi-17.

Russia dispatched several Mi-26 helicopters for disaster-relief in the aftermath of China’s Wenchuan earthquake in May 2008. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing reportedly turned to Russia and leased a number of Mi-26s to transfer relief supplies, first-responders and injured civilians after the devastating Wenchuan earthquake jolted Sichuan province and the rest of western China in May 2008.

Chinese media revealed that some Mi-26s were used to airlift heavy earth moving equipment to some of the worst-hit villages that were accessible only by foot or air.