CHINA / MILITARY
Maiden flight of China's carrier-based stealth fighter spotted, 'aircraft to rival F-35'
Published: Oct 31, 2021 07:59 PM
A model of China's FC-31 stealth fighter jet is on display at the Airshow China 2021 in Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province, on Tuesday. Photo: Liu Xuanzun/GT

A model of China's FC-31 stealth fighter jet is on display at the Airshow China 2021 in Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province, on Tuesday. Photo: Liu Xuanzun/GT



China's next-generation aircraft carrier-based fighter jet made its long-expected maiden flight recently, foreign media outlets reported, with unverified photos of the prototype warplane in the sky circulating on social media platforms.

If true, this would mean a tremendous step for China's aircraft carrier program, observers said.

The photos show the carrier version of the FC-31 stealth fighter flying. It is painted with a blue-green primer, and it has the same twin canted tailfins, twin engines and high-mounted cockpit of the FC-31. But it adds a catapult launch bar and a wing-fold mechanism, confirming it is intended for carrier operations, US media outlet thedrive.com reported on Friday.

Other notable features are a chin-mounted sensor turret, apparently analogous to the F-35's Electro-Optical Targeting System, and what seems to be a remodeled cockpit canopy profile, with a shorter main transparency, the report said.

Developed based on the FC-31, the aircraft carrier-version is almost a new aircraft, with many of the latest technologies applied, said experts and analysts reached by the Global Times. They declined to confirm the authenticity of the photos but said they are generally in line with predictions.

The FC-31 is China's second stealth fighter jet intended for technical demonstration and export purposes, and it made its maiden flight nine years ago. It has long been expected that the FC-31 would be upgraded to become China's next-generation aircraft carrier-based fighter jet.

During the Airshow China 2021 held in September, Sun Cong, chief designer of the J-15, China's first-generation aircraft carrier-based fighter jet, as well as the FC-31, said at a press conference that, "This year, people should be able to see good news on the next-generation aircraft carrier-based fighter jet," and "When the aircraft is ready, people will get to see it."

Rumored to be designated the J-35, China's aircraft carrier-based stealth fighter is only the world's second aircraft of its kind. It is believed to rival its US-made counterpart, the F-35, which is being provocatively deployed in large numbers by the US and its allies near China, analysts said.

Another crucial aircraft that will be on China's future carriers, the KJ-600 early warning aircraft, was also seen undergoing flight tests recently, thedrive.com reported, citing a photo.

This means both types of new carrier-based aircraft are at a good stage in the development progress, and they will likely operate from China's forthcoming, third aircraft carrier, which is expected to be larger than the previous two and equipped with electromagnetic catapults, analysts said.


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