The AS700, an airship model to meet potential tourism demand, has entered its airworthiness certification process, according to the Aviation Industry Corp of China, the nation's leading aircraft maker.
The second AS700 prototype, which is tasked with making test flights for the purpose of airworthiness certification, carried out its maiden flight on Thursday in Jingmen, Hubei province, AVIC said in a news release.
The results of the prototype's test flights will be central to the AS700 model's application for the airworthiness certificate — a permit for the commercial operation of passenger flights.
Designed and built by the Special Aircraft Research Institute, an AVIC subsidiary in Jingmen, the airship's research and development started in August 2018, aiming to meet tourist demand for sightseeing air tours.
The maiden flight lasted 39 minutes, with a pilot and an observer on board, said Du Wei, a senior engineer at the institute and project manager of the AS700.
"The pilot operated the airship to carry out four rounds of takeoff and landing to check the prototype's capabilities. During the test, the airship reached an altitude of 45 meters," he said.
Propelled by piston engines, the airship is able to carry one pilot and nine tourists and is capable of flying 700 kilometers and staying in the air for up to 10 hours.
The first AS700 prototype, built as a technology demonstration, had completed all of its assigned test flights by October.
In addition to sightseeing, the AS700 will also be suitable for a wide variety of operations such as mineral prospecting, marine surveillance, cargo transport and emergency rescue, designers said, estimating that as many as 100 of the craft will be needed to meet market demand in the coming decade.
There will be plenty of space inside the aircraft, which will allow it to have cooking facilities and a washroom. It can also be equipped with high-end appliances or be modified into a luxury vehicle to meet various kinds of market needs, according to designers.
With their comfortable flight experience, good economy and high safety, airships are a good choice for aerial tourism and cargo transportation to remote areas, Du said.
The institute has designed a number of manned and unmanned airships since the mid-1980s.
However, almost all of them have been small models used to carry scientific equipment to perform experiments or technology demonstrations rather than for tourism.