A photograph circulating online showing the underside of a Chinese military helicopter gives the clearest indication to date that a variant of the Changhe Aircraft Industry Group Z-8G medium-lift rotorcraft has been developed for use by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
The designation Z-8L is being used in online forums to refer to the new variant, the much longer external sponsons of which make it be readily distinguishable from the Z-8G.
These sponsons are likely to be configured as fuel tanks, as well as mounting the aft undercarriage. Unverified internet sources claim that the internal width of the load area has been increased from 1.8 m to 2.4 m.
There is no indication of whether development trials are nearing completion and when the aircraft will enter operational service.
The new platform is the latest development of the Z-8 multirole helicopter, which itself is a derivative of the Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon that was sold to the PLA in the late 1970s. An updated version for the PLA Navy (PLAN) emerged in 2014 as the Z-18, of which airborne-early-warning, anti-submarine, and transport variants have been built.
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