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HH-100 Unmanned Transportation System Demonstrator Conducts First Flight

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin completed his undergraduate and graduate education at a Texas university and has studied extensively in China. As a former Marine Corps intelligence analyst, he worked in the Indo-Pacific region. His areas of expertise include PLA modernization, particularly PLAN/PLANMC and its expeditionary capabilities, as well as CCP and Chinese domestic politics. He also runs the Sino Talk brand on Instagram and Twitter and is the IndoPacific Desk Chief for Atlas.

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On June 12th, China’s Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) conducted the maiden flight of the HH-100 Unmanned Commercial Transportation System Demonstrator (UCTSD) near the city of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. AVIC released a statement that said the flight was successful and encountered no issues.

First Flight

HH-100 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle landing at Xi’an Lantian General Airport after successfully completing its maiden flight on June 12, 2024 (Photo: X/@RupprechtDeino)

The flight of the HH-100 began with the drone taking off from Xi’an Lantian General Airport, located approximately 19 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Xi’an, at 9:16 a.m. local time. The technicians and research team conducted various tests of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’s (UAV) systems and equipment. The team said the systems worked normally, and the posture of the drone was stable and in good condition. The team completed all scheduled flight tests that were completed during the flight. At 9:25 a.m. local time, the UCTSD successfully completed the test flight and landed smoothly back at the airport.

AVIC personnel placing chokes under aircraft wheels while others inspect the HH-100’s fuselage after its maiden flight on June 12, 2024 (Photo: CCTV)

HH-100 Characteristics

AVIC’s subsidiary, Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (Xifei), began research and development of the project in September 2021. In December 2022, the company completed the design details for the UAV. The company completed the total assembly integration of the UCTSD and transferred the drone for ground tests. The HH-100 completed the high-slip test and successfully entered the first stage of flight tests on April 3, 2024. On April 13, 2024, Xifei successfully conducted a series of low-speed, medium-speed, and high-speed autonomous taxi tests along with several data collection and control law tuning parameters. The AVIC released a statement saying that the tests were in a stable state, the autonomous taxi control performance was good, and it will begin the first flight tests.

AVIC personnel observe HH-100 performance and looking at notes during its flight (Photo: CCTV)

The HH-100 is described as a commercial unmanned transport system that is a product made by AVIC to enter the unmanned transport field with a one-ton commercial unmanned cargo system. The drone builds upon the development of the “Xhizhou” series of UAVs. The UAV has a maximum take-off weight of 4,409 lbs. (2,000 kilograms), a maximum cruise speed of 186 mph (300 kph), and a range of 323 miles (520 kilometers). The UCTSD has a maximum height of 16,400 feet (5,000 meters), a commercial load of 1,543 lbs. (700 kilograms), and a cargo hold capacity of 141 cubic feet (4 cubic meters). The drone has a rear ramp that can allow cargo to be loaded into its hold. Xifei is developing a modular capability so the drone can be rapidly disassembled, which would allow it to effectively achieve open-space intermodal transportation. The UCTSD system consists of the UAV and Command and Control ground station.

HH-100’s Chief Designer Chen Lei talking with CCTV reporter about the UCTSD on June 12, 2024 (Photo: CCTV)

Analysis

The HH-100 illustrates China’s understanding that UAVs would have immense applications in logistics and transportation, as well as other areas. The drone will likely be adapted for use by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for various purposes. The drone’s main application is feeder logistics, which would allow companies to move small quantities of goods and supplies from small ports to larger ports and other logistical hubs. However, the company is planning to use the HH-100’s modular capability for use in other areas such as extinguishing forest fires, disaster operations, communication relays, and weather seeding applications. Furthermore, the company hopes that by capitalizing on the strategic opportunities in the low-altitude sector, it will develop 2-ton, 5-ton, 10-ton, and above UAVs designed for transportation.

The PLA will likely show interest in the HH-100 and its larger variants due to its immense interest in adapting UAVs for various uses. For example, the PLA has shown interest in using UAVs for logistics and resupply at the tactical level. A military variant of the HH-100 would provide the PLA with additional options to conduct sustainment operations at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. For example, the HH-100 would be largely oriented toward resupplying PLA units at the tactical level by landing at airstrips or airdrops. Furthermore, the drone would allow the PLA to resupply its units without using manned aircraft or helicopters.

The bigger variants of the HH-100 would be used to conduct logistical operations at the operational and strategic levels. These operations would include moving supplies to the PLA’s logistical sustainment areas for disbursement to tactical units. Furthermore, the PLA could use the large drones to move troops and equipment short distances, such as to other bases or staging areas. The PLA would use the HH-100 and its larger variants as communication relays to extend the range of radios as well as for intelligence collection and to conduct Electronic Warfare at all levels.

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