Modified Chinese H-6 Bomber Spotted Carrying Mysterious Drone

H-6 Drone Carrier
The Chinese H-6 bomber carrying a possible drone below the fuselage. (Photo: Chinese internet via @RupprechtDeino)

The bomber is possibly carrying the WZ-8 high altitude supersonic reconnaissance drone or the MD-22 reusable hypersonic drone.

A low-res photo, possibly taken by a cell phone, has surfaced online few days ago, showing a Chinese H-6 bomber flying overhead. Below the fuselage, a darker aircraft-like shape can be seen, with it possibly being the WZ-8 high altitude supersonic reconnaissance drone first unveiled in 2019 or the MD-22 reusable hypersonic drone unveiled in 2022.

Given the quality of the photo, that does not appear to have been digitally altered, it’s not possible to have a definitive identification of the payload of the H-6. Also, the WZ-8 is rumored to be already in service (but should be smaller than that shown in the image), while very little details are known about the MD-22.

Let’s dive in what we know so far about these two designs.

The WZ-8

The existence of the Wuzhen 8 (WZ-8) spy drones was first unveiled during the military parade to commemorate China’s 70th anniversary in 2019, but at the time they were simply called “High Altitude and High-Speed Reconnaissance Drone” by the Chinese TV. According to some rumors, the UAV might have already been in service for a year when it was unveiled.

The supersonic drone features a large delta wing without a vertical stabilizer mounted centrally on the fuselage, replaced instead by stabilizers mounted on two big winglets. The combination of this aerodynamic configuration and the presence of two attachment points on the fuselage immediately hinted that the drone was meant to be air-launched.

The WZ-8 is equipped with two engines which, judging by the exhaust nozzles, should be liquid rocket engines, as the aircraft also lacks any sort of air inlets, meaning it is not an air breathing engine. The drone’s design appears optimized for low observability and is also equipped with a seemingly robust, retractable landing gear.

A leaked US government document, apparently part of the 2023 Pentagon Leaks, suggest that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force “almost certainly established the first supersonic UAV unit” at Liuan airfield, where WZ-8 drones were spotted in satellite photos. The document also mentions that the WZ-8 is carried by the specially modified H-6M bomber under the fuselage.

Composite image showing different views of the WZ-8 drone from the 2019 military parade. (Original photos: Fan Lingzhi/GT, AP, CCTV/CNN, CCTV)

Similarly to what we assessed in 2019, the leaked document states that the UAV’s known engine features are “primarily associated with rocket fuel” and allow to sustain flight at 100,000 ft and a speed of Mach 3. According to the document, the WZ-8 might be equipped with a Synthetic Aperture Radar and a daylight Electro-Optical sensor.

Interestingly, the document also provides two notional employment scenarios. The first sees the H-6M departing with the WZ-8 from Liuan and releasing the drone over the Yellow Sea, near the North Korean coasts, allowing it to fly South Korea’s west coast. The second one sees the bomber releasing the WZ-8 over the Taiwan Strait, so the drone can overfly Taiwan.

The MD-22

The MD-22 UAV was unveiled during the Airshow China 2022 exhibition in Zhuhai, where a mockup was on display. The aircraft was presented as a reusable near-space hypersonic technology demonstrator developed by the Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics of the Institute of Mechanics (CAS) and the Guangdong Aerospace Research Academy (GARA).

The MD-22 features a cropped delta wing, a V-tail and a near-flat bottom fuselage. A single engine is installed, with what seems an air inlet below the fuselage, hinting at a possible air-breathing engine. The infographic displayed with the mockup, mentions that the drone can takeoff assisted by a rocket booster, with a maximum speed of Mach 7 and range of 8000 km.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.