The 13.8t AC313 an updated design based on the earlier Harbin Z-8, itself a development of the Aérospatiale Super Frelon. The general designer of AC313 is Mr. Xu Chaoliang (徐朝梁), and the deputy general designer of AC313 is Mr. Li Jiayun (李家云). It is designed to carry 27 passengers, has a reported maximum range of 900 kilometres, and a maximum payload of 13.8 tonnes.
The rotorcraft has already been redesigned once to conform to updated certification standards—the CAAC refused the manufacturer's application to certify the Z-8 for civil use in 2004. The CAAC determined then that an aircraft certified to military standards in China in the 1970s was not a candidate for civil use now. That appears to have sent the design authority, the China Helicopter Research and Development Institute, back to the drawing board to develop the considerably revised AC313.
The aircraft has new main and tail rotors, and a fuselage using composite material. With three Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6B-67A engines, the AC313 is a single-rotor helicopter with tail rotors, tandem pilot seating, and a non-retractable landing gear. Although based on a 1960s design, the AC313 has been developed to use composite materials for the rotor blade and titanium main rotor. Composite materials are used on 50% of the helicopter and titanium is used for the remainder. The interior comes equipped with a modern integrated digital avionics system and has a cabin height of 1.83 m and 23.5 cu.m in space. In terms of cargo, it can carry up to 4 tonne internally or 5 tonnes on a sling. AC313 is equipped with electronic flight instrument system.
The prototype first flew at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi on 18 March 2010 and made it first public demonstration flight at the Zhuhai Air Show in November 2010.
Built by Avicopter (AVIC Helicopter Company), the AC313 is only the second helicopter to be able to operate in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, first being Sikorsky S-70C Black Hawk. The flight testing period for the 13-tonne AC313 was conducted in Hulunbuir City, Inner Mongolia, starting in January 2011 where it was tested to operate in extremely low temperatures as low as minus 46degC marking the scope of Asia’s largest tonnage helicopter meeting the mission requirements of the cold climate and the Earth’s polar regions. The helicopter also set its speed record of 336 km per hour during the testing period. The AC313 became the first China-made aircraft authorized by China's civil aviation authority in January to fly in high-altitude regions of over 4,500 meters above the sea level.
AC313 has received a Type Certificate issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
Following Chinese certification, the first 5 AC313 were to be delivered to Flying Dragon Special Aviation, in 2011. Avicopter has plans to certify the AC313 for sales in Europe and the United States. Xu Chaoliang, the chief designer of the helicopter, said the company has so far received 32 orders from national and international customers.
Like other Chinese aircraft, it has high-altitude operations as a key objective, so that it can fly from bases on the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. The CAAC has certified it to operate from fields as high as 4,500 meters (14,800 ft.).
Equipped with advanced instrument landing system, the helicopter can be used in blizzard weather in plateau regions. It can seat up to 27 passengers and two crew, has a maximum range of 900km (485nm) and is designed for transport, cargo, search and rescue, fire-fighting, offshore exploration and medical evacuation missions, Avicopter says.
CAIH, a wholly owned subsidiary of the China Aviation Industry Corp, was expected to produce 300 helicopters annually by 2015.