China's newly modified trainer jet takes to the skies
Published: May 13, 2020 11:08 PM

Two JL-9 jet trainers attached to an aviation regiment under the PLA Navy take off in echelon formation during a flight training course on February 22, 2020. ( by Lan Pengfei)

A prototype of China's newly modified version of the Naval Mountain Eagle trainer jet on Tuesday made a successful test flight, its maker announced on Wednesday.

Widely speculated to be an aircraft carrier-operable aircraft, it still lacks a tail hook to allow it to land on a carrier, military observers noted.

The successful test flight by the improved version of the Naval Mountain Eagle took place at Anshun Airport in Southwest China's Guizhou Province on Tuesday, reads a statement released by the aircraft's developer Guizhou Aviation Industry Corporation under the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) on its WeChat public account on Wednesday.

According to photos released with the statement, the modified Naval Mountain Eagle was not fitted with a tail hook, which is crucial to help a plane land on an aircraft carrier.

A military analyst, who asked for anonymity, told the Global Times on Wednesday that judging by the photos, the modified version of the Naval Mountain Eagle is still likely a land-based trainer, but is much improved and can better simulate a carrier-based fighter jet than the original.

Previous reports in both Chinese and foreign languages speculated that the newly customized aircraft could operate on aircraft carriers and help better train carrier-based fighter jet pilots.

The original version of the Naval Mountain Eagle trainer jet is already in service in the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy under the designation of the JL-9G. It cannot operate on actual aircraft carriers but can simulate similar situations and train pilots before they fly the real J-15 carrier-based fighter jet.

Citing photos released by the Guizhou company, Shanghai-based news website reported on Wednesday that the modified version replaced the drogue parachute on the tail of the original version with air brakes on the tip of each wing.

These changes will make the trainer more like a carrier-based aircraft, because such an aircraft does not have a drogue parachute, and the air brakes can help decelerate, helping pilot cadets learn to control speed when landing on an aircraft carrier, the report said, noting this design is similar to the one used on Russia's Su-25UTG carrier-based trainer.

Some Chinese military observers speculate the modified Naval Mountain Eagle is still not in its final form, and a tail hook could be added in the future. Others said the more advanced but also more expensive JL-10, another Chinese homemade trainer jet, is more suitable for modification.