China just showed off its next generation of mega-planes

Military airlifters, a new Sino-Russian jumbo jet, and the world's largest seaplane
C919 Zhuhai 2016 China COMAC jetliner
The C919 prototype, completed in late 2015, has been undergoing tests and preparations for its 2017 maiden flight. With over 500 orders from Chinese airlines, COMAC (with heavy support from Beijing) will next take aim at the export market. COMAC
AG-600 China Y-20 Zhuhai 2016

While manned and unmanned military aircraft have taken up the lion’s share of press and popular attention at the Zhuhai 2016 Airshow, China is making important leaps in building jetliners and large transport planes. The success of these projects will be critical pillar for both China’s civilian aviation industry as well as Beijing’s plans become a high-tech economy and world power.

Y-20 Y-20F-100 China Zhuhai 2016

The world’s largest military aircraft currently in production, the Y-20, is China’s heavy transport aircraft. Built by the Xian Aircraft Corporation, it has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 200 tons and a 66-ton payload, and is entering People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) service this year.

The Y-20 made a repeat appearance at Zhuhai 2016 (it debuted at Zhuhai 2014) as the Y-20F-100, which can carry 28 air freight containers with a total weight of 65 tons—enough to transport high bypass domestic WS-20 engines. In addition to increasing its fuel efficiency, this means that China would not need Russian approval to export the Y-20F-100.

AG-600 CAIGA China Zhuhai 2016 seaplane

The debut of the CAIGA (an AVIC subsidiary) AG-600 seaplane prototype was one of Zhuhai 2016’s pleasant surprises. With a maximum takeoff weight of 53.6 tons and room for 50 passengers, the AG-600 is the world’s largest seaplane, beating out the Japanese U-2. By the end of the show, AVIC claimed to have received 17 orders for the AG-600 from domestic and foreign customers. Here’s why: large seaplanes are well-suited for firefighting, maritime search and rescue missions, anti-submarine and littoral irregular warfare, and resupplying small island bases, like those in the South China Sea.

T333 Zhong Hang Zhi Technology UAV drone helicopter China Zhuhai 2016

Zhong Hang Zhi Technology, a private Chinese drone builder, showed off its 3-ton T333 Helicopter cargo UAV. T333 has a payload of 1.5 tons and speed of 300 kilometers (or about 186 miles) per hour. Compared to conventional helicopter layouts, its coaxial rotor saves weight and increases speed. At 3 tons, it is the largest purpose-built helicopter drone (some conversions like the K-MAX are bigger) in the world.

While the smaller T220 is already in service with Chinese civilian and military customers, the T333 may be joined by even bigger cousins in the years to come. Chinese military users would find that the T333’s small size and respectable payload well suited for both unmanned aerial resupply of Chinese troops in difficult-to-reach mountain and urban areas, as well as for naval uses, like anti-submarine warfare, on warships too small to carry manned helicopters.

One of the true stars of Zhuhai 2016 was the C919 jetliner, China’s modern passenger jet, which garnered 56 orders at the event. Following on the much-delayed regional ARJ-21 jet, the 75-ton C919 is in the same class as the Boeing B737 and Airbus A320, seating up to 156 passengers in its basic two-class configuration. It has a wingspan of 117.5 feet and a length of 130.6 feet.

After a couple of years of delay, the first C919 prototype rolled out of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s (COMAC) Shanghai factory in November 2015, and is undergoing extensive ground testing before its maiden flight in the first half of 2017. While most of its 573 current orders are from Chinese airlines, the global success of the C919 as a lower-cost alternative to western aircraft would be a political and technological triumph for China. In addition, experience from the C919 will give COMAC the base to build larger next-generation jetliners.

China Russia C929 Jumbo Jet

On Nov. 2, Russian Trade Minister Denis Manturov announced that COMAC and its Russian counterpart, United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), will form a $12 billion to $20 billion joint venture to build a Sino-Russian wide body jumbo jet. COMAC Vice President Guo Bozhi said that the jumbo jet, tentatively named “C929”, will enter service around 2025 and be assembled in Shanghai.

The C929 will have a range of 7,456 miles and will have three variants, seating 250, 280 and 320 passengers respectively. This would roughly place the C929 in the same weight class as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. China and Russia hope that combining Chinese resources with past Russian experiences, along with foreign inputs like western Rolls Royce and General Electric engines, will help them produce a high-tech jetliner that’s 10 percent cheaper than its western competitors. In addition to providing a cheaper option for civilian long haul flights, the C929 could serve as a fuel efficient platform for large Chinese or Russian military aircraft like airborne early warning command and control, aerial tankers, surveillance, electronic intelligence gathering, and VIP transport.

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