Category Archives: China

China's 5th generation stealth fighter performing combat maneuver tests over Chengdu

The following videos, once again purposely leaked to impress foreign observers, show China’s 5th generation stealth fighter J-20 at work during test flights at Chengdu. The second, taken on Feb. 26, 2012, at the end of the 70th public test flight, shows the future People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) radar evading plane performing some low level combat maneuvers.

Nothing special to be honest.  Indeed, what’s really amazing is not the turn rate nor maneuverability rather then the take off run of the J-20: extremely short for such a large plane, believed to be around 70 feet in length, with a wingspan of 42 feet (13 m) or more, and expected to have a takeoff weight of 75,000 to 80,000 pounds (34,000 to 36,000 kg) with internal stores only.

Feb. 4:

Feb. 26:

As already written several times, some western analyst believe the J-20 will be more capable than the F-22 and the F-35.

On the contrary, I’m among those who think that the real problem for the U.S. with the J-20 is not with the aircraft’s performances, top speed, equipment and capabilities (even if the US legacy fighters were designed 20 years earlier than current Chinese or Russian fighters of the same “class”); the problem is that China will probably build thousands of them.

Don't get on a Sukhoi Su-27 without wearing this: Russian (and China's Air Force) long range underwear

Long range flights can be extremely critical for combat pilots.
What makes these missions particularly uncomfortable is not only the complexity of the navigation but the lack of restrooms.

The use of urine collection devices called “piddle packs” in small cockpit compels the pilots to disrobe, adjust the ejection seat and distract them from handling the aircraft. A tricky procedure that can be extremely dangerous if lap belts get stuck on the control stick. As happened at least twice in the past causing the loss of two fighter planes (and the succesful ejection of the respective pilots).

Next generation “piddle packs” pump urine from a pilot’s underwear equipped with an inflatable cup and a hose to a sanitary collection bag so they don’t even have to unstrap when they have to go. A system that is particularly useful when wearing not only a flightsuit but also the anti-exposure suit designed for cold water survival.

A similar underwear system was produced in Russia for the Sukhoi Su-27 pilots and transferred to China along with the planes and a full set of pilot flight gear (including ZSH-7 helmets, helmet targeting device, flight suites etc.) when People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) got the Russian Flankers before China started to manufacture its indigenous version of the plane (the Shenyang J-11A, that entered service in 1998).

The pictures (provided by a source who wishes to remain anonymous), show the Russian underwear delivered to the PLAAF. They should be self-explaining about how it is supposed to work (with the main difference being that the hose is connected to the plane and not to a bag), even if they give no hint of actual comfort…

Anyway, since the Chinese Air Force decided to use cheaper homemade flight gear (and long distance flights were seldom performed) this type of “piddle pack” has disappeared from PLAAF’s warehouse soon becoming a collectors’ item.

China's Light Attack Helicopter Z-19: a silent (rather than radar evading) chopper

The new Z-19 does not have a cool name, but it does have some very interesting features.

The use of the word ‘Stealth’ is probably a little too strong a term for this new helicopter as the stealth used is not in the classical sense. In the case of the Z-19, it’s acoustic stealthiness along with exhausts that shield the aircraft from Infra-red threats, rather than radar-absorbing materials and shapes like the modified Stealth Black Hawk used in the Osama Bin Laden raid.

The Z-19 is being developed by Harbin Aircraft Industrial Corporation and is suspected to operate alongside the larger Z-10 which is roughly the size of a Ah-64 Apache and is more of a tank killer. Moreover, the Z-10 is now entering front line service with the smaller Z-19 a few years behind.

The Z-19 is roughly the size of an OH-58 Kiowa and made its first flight in May 2010. Although it has been reported that one prototype was lost during September 2010, there are no details of the cause of the crash or even if there were fatalities. The fuselage is the usual slim tandem cockpit design, although unlike most gunship designs the pilot sits in the front seat with the gunner in the elevated rear seat. The chin turret sits in the usual place and the cabin has the distinct look of the Agusta A-129 about it.

Moving to the rear of the aircraft, the Z-19 has exhuasts that point up reducing the infra-red signature, ‘stubby’ wings with hard points and the tail boom whose look remind the AH-66 Comanche with the fenestron tail. It’s the latter that gives clues to its acoustic damping that is ideal for a forward scout able to creep up on an unsuspecting enemy or provide targeting data for its partner in crime the Z-10.

The Z-19 boasts armour plating for its crew along with crash resisting seats; the chin turret has FLIR, TV and a laser range finder. The chopper can carry a wide weapons load including 23mm gun pods, anti-tank and air-to-air missiles giving it a wide-ranging punch. A range of 700km, a service ceiling of 2,400 m and a cruising speed of 245 km/h finishes off the performance figures.

The most interesting thing about the z-19, other than its obvious evolution over previous designs, is its export potential to countries that do not have the big budgets and are looking for a cheaper alternative to the Apache’s, Hinds and Z-10s.

China could find it has a best seller on its hands if it capitalizes on the new helicopters potential.

Its in service date is unknown. However, since it is currently in an advanced flight testing program, the PLAAF should be taking delivery of the Z-19 within the next few years.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

Image via Chinese Internet

China's J-18 Snowy Owl: Myth or Reality?

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

China: does it need to copy the RQ-170 "Beast of Kandahar" captured in Iran?

As has been widely reported it is no secret that China is trying to acquire stealth technology for use in their indigenous aircraft program. It was only last year that photo’s and video of the J-20 started to appear on the internet. It was clear that  China had made advances into the dark art of stealth technology, although first radar evading tech dates back to about 40 years ago. What was interesting was that the J-20 did not posses the angular lines of the Nighthawk but the more rounded curves of the B-2 or Raptor, it was clear a lot of work had been done behind closed doors for the Chinese scientists.

Another area that Chinese designers have made advances in is that of UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) or UAS (unmanned aerial systems). Rumours started in 2007 when, during the Paris Air show, China displayed the ‘Dark Sword’ concept.

The Dark Sword clearly had a very low RCS (Radar Cross Section) and showed the way Chinese designers were going in their work. It has appeared several times since then, indicating that this might not just be a concept but could be something that becomes reality in the future.

At the end of 2011 photos started emerging from China of a new Stealth UCAV/UAV dubbed the “Wind Blade” that features a blended wing design with long slim wings with “Sharklets” and an engine intake at the front and above the wing-like body. The overall design would lean towards a high altitude surveillance platform and  going by reports it was designed by students from the Shenyang University which happens to be connected to one of China’s largest aircraft producers. Although the aircraft in the photo is a scale model it’s not clear how old the photo is, so it could be conceivable that there is now a full-scale version.

China does have several non stealthy UAVs too.

There is the SOAR Dragon which looks very similar to the Global Hawk although it has swept wings and the tail plane joins with the main wing and from the photo’s below appears to have  radar absorbing paint. What is interesting in these photo’s is that the aircraft is in an advanced state of completion and looks to be being painted.

There are videos of a hybrid Predator – Global Hawk look-alike doing fast taxis down an unknown runway. The drone seems to be in an advanced state of testing meaning this could now be in a flyable position.

Analysts are divided as to where Chinese scientists are with UAV development. Based on the designs that are being displayed, the designers could have mastered stealthy shapes and the complexities of controlling the UAV. There are even reports that the Chinese are testing small-scale UAV’s for automated carrier landings.

Where most analysts agree is that China does not have the infrastructure to have a UAV reach outside of Chinese airspace and even within Chinese borders the signals are unreliable.

Maybe some of the radio/satellite link equipment, as well as  internal memories, circuitry, lenses,  and sensors contained in the RQ-170 Sentinel captured by Iran could be somehow helpful cause they can be evaluated, tested and copied. And, maybe, improved.

China is still a fair few years away from having a true global UAV reach which will require a lot of space systems investment to be able to achieve this. However there is one thing for sure, it will happen at some point in the future.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

All images source: Chinese Internet