USAF Confirms: The Chinese J-20 Spotted In Georgia Is a Mock-Up Used For Training by the U.S. Marine Corps

The photo we obtained from a photographer who asked to remain anonymous is genuine.

The Mystery Chinese Stealth Jet Seen at U.S. Base Is For Marine OPFOR Training.

The U.S. Air Force has officially confirmed to TheAviationist.com that the Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon photographed at a military facility inside Savannah-Hilton Head Airport, Georgia, US, on Wednesday, Dec. 5, is a training mock-up for use by the United States Marine Corps.

“It is a full scale replica and remained at the Air Dominance Center for a short period during the week of 4-6 Dec. The USMC is funding and directing the training objectives of this device […] Col. Emmanuel Haldopoulos, Commander of the Savannah Air Dominance Center, wrote us.

The specific role of the realistic, full scale mock-up has not yet been clarified by official U. S. Marine Corps sources.



The photo caused worldwide speculation when we broke the story on Thursday, the day after the aircraft was sighted at Savannah-Hilton Head Airport. It was provided to us by a reliable spotter who asked to remain anonymous and shot the photo from public property. A number of theories about the plane’s authenticity and origin, including bizarre ideas about a Viktor Belenko style defection, however unlikely, swirled around social media. The Russian media outlet Sputnik ran a feature on the photograph and our story.

Internet and social media pundits around the world have viewed the photo millions of times and offered wide-ranging theories on what the aircraft was doing in the U.S. Others incorrectly questioned if the photo was authentic. In the internet frenzy that followed publication of the photo, some observers, including Russian sources, suggested the photo may have been altered or created using digital resources such as Photoshop.

One observer provided a radar track of an unidentified aircraft that was alleged to have flown from Alaska to Savannah-Hilton Head Airport just prior to the sighting. As is usually the case the conspiracy theories of secret defections and fake Photoshop images proved incorrect.

Late last week, Chinese Defense subject matter expert Andreas Rupprecht, noted author of several authoritative reference books on the Chinese air forces, was the first to observe that the aircraft’s control surfaces had not moved while parked in a static position. He also noted that the exhaust nozzles looked inaccurate and the landing gear was different from a real Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon. These observations confirmed the aircraft was a full-scale mock-up and not a real Chengdu J-20.

Comparison of the Savannah-Hilton Head training mock-up photo (bottom) with a file photo of the Chengdu J-20 from China’s Defense Force. A. Incorrect Landing Gear B. aircraft’s control surfaces not moved while parked in a static position. C. Incorrect nozzles (Photo: Anonymous and Chinese Media.)

Before the USAF confirmed the role of the J-20 mock-up as a Marine Corps training tool to TheAviationist.com, there had also been some suggestion that the aircraft was a prop for use in the ongoing production of the Hollywood movie, “Top Gun: Maverick”.

Now that the authenticity of photo and the purpose for the Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon have been officially confirmed by the U.S. Air Force the more interesting story becomes how the U.S. Marine Corps will integrate the aircraft into its training operations.

The appearance of the USMC-owned J-20 mock-up suggests that the U.S. is taking the emergence of this and other Chinese weapons systems seriously. With a significant increase in both indigenous and export weapons programs coming from China the U.S. focus on emerging Chinese defense technology is well justified.

We will keep you updated as more details emerge.

About Tom Demerly 369 Articles
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.