Friday, July 31, 2009

South Korea unveiled its first homegrown helicopter


South Korea on Friday unveiled its first homegrown helicopter, hoping it will propel the nation's budding aerospace industry and step in for an aging military fleet. Able to push 260km per hour and hover high above the nation's craggy terrain, the first prototype of the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH), also called the "Surion," was displayed at a ceremony in this southwestern city attended by senior government officials, including President Lee Myung-bak. "We should use the successful development of the indigenous helicopter as a spring board to move forward and join the ranks of advanced industrialized countries in the 21st century," Lee said at the ceremony.

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 Surion's ability to serve in both defense and civilian roles is significant in terms of future growth potential. "Even though it is primarily a military helicopter, the KUH already satisfies 96 percent or 2,363 of the 2,460 international operational standards for civilian helicopters," said Lee Jae-hong, head of the machinery, aerospace and defense industry division at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. The project's managers said that while initial aircraft will be supplied exclusively to the military, civilian orders will be sought beginning in 2011 at the latest to ensure a better return on investment. The government and private firms have poured a combined 1.3 trillion won (US$1 billion) into the aircraft's development since it began in 2006.
South Korea has produced propeller-driven supersonic jets in the past, but the Surion makes it one of only 11 countries in the world to turn out an indigenous helicopter. The ministry, 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 in the next 25 years, a government official said on condition of anonymity. 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 152m per minute and maintain a stable hover at 3,000m. Special emphasis was placed in the design on meeting variable combat conditions needed to ensure the survival of the crew. Related to the KUH development, the Defense Ministry said earlier in the week it may scrap a plan to buy used Apache helicopters from the United States because of feasibility issues. With the move, South Korea is expected to build an indigenous fleet of attack helicopters to replace its AH-1 Cobra fleet in the coming years.

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