Over the past year or so, rumours on the Internet have persisted that China has been building a stealthy STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft in a similar vein to the F-35 Lightning II. Pictures of said aircraft are non existant but the rumour mill still persists that it’s either real or will be at some point in the future.
It doesn’t take long looking on the chinese defense forums and websites to see the odd snippet of information, although there is a lot of miss information out there also, of which some could be started by the Chinese government to hide what they are really up to.
The common theme does seem to favour an engine set up similar to the F-35B which in itself wasn’t a new design. Take a look at the Russian Yak 141 and you will see the lift fan at the front and the swivelling jet nozzel at the rear. There is even talk that the engine will be a modified version of what is planned to go into the well documented J-20 when it reaches production. Is this definite? of course not, it doesn’t even appear to be off the drawing board yet and probably will remain so for quite a while (if not indefinately).
Above image of a Russian Yak-141: Chinese Internet
So what will the fabled J-18 Snowy Owl look like if it were to take to the skies?
Well, many analysts favour the canted twin vertical stabilisers high wing design in a similar vein to the F-35 with some sort of lift fan at the front just behind the cockpit. It’s interesting to note that the Yak141 had two lift fans one behind the other and it’s suspected that the J-18 would be the same. The big question is: would it sport one or two engines at the rear? The rendering below seems to favour two engines both with the swivelling nozzels and a smooth low RCS (Radar Cross Section) fuselage internal weapons bays and other stealthy features.
Above render source: Tiexue.net
Assuming for a moment the aircraft is real and it’s near to flight testing how would China use it?
It has been widely reported that China’s first Aircraft Carrier has been under going sea trials. Again it has been widely reported that China has a navalised version of the J-15, itself a copy of the Sukhoi SU-30, which is real and is flying so it is hard to see the need unless there is some sort of unknown plan to build smaller carriers in the vein of the USS Wasp to provide maritime support of amphibious forces.
The STOVL project is going to be a huge technological exercise and that is going to take time. The J-18 is likely to remain rumours and internet chatter for a long time to come, and in true Mythbusters style, this Myth is busted at least for now.
Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com