China’s latest Wing Loong drone makes maiden flight; upgrades seen
Published: Jan 21, 2022 07:14 PM
The Wing Loong-1E drone successfully completes its maiden flight on January 18, 2022. Photo: Sina Weibo account of Aviation Industry Corporation of China

The Wing Loong-1E drone successfully completes its maiden flight on January 18, 2022. Photo: Sina Weibo account of Aviation Industry Corporation of China

The Wing Loong-1E, a latest member in the Wing Loong drone family of China, made its maiden flight this week, with experts saying on Friday that the new aircraft is expected to be better than its predecessor in terms of range, endurance, efficiency and reliability, while remaining cost-efficient.

Independently developed by the drone subsidiary of state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the Wing Loong-1E on Tuesday successfully completed its first flight, marking the birth of yet another addition to the Wing Loong drone family, AVIC announced on Friday, without revealing the location of the test flight.

Developed based on the mature Wing Loong series drones, the Wing Loong-1E is a large multi-purpose drone made completely of composite materials, AVIC said.

Compared with its predecessor, the new drone received comprehensive optimization and upgrades to its performance, AVIC said, but did not give more details about the aircraft's performance specifications.

The Wing Loong-1E is still distinguishable as a Wing Loong-1 drone, but it made some changes to aerodynamic design, including adding upward-pointing winglets to the tip of the main wings like a Wing Loong-2, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Friday, after looking at two photos posted by AVIC showing the drone's first flight.

By using composite materials for the entire aircraft, which is an advanced technology, the drone must be lighter and sturdier than the original Wing Loong-1, the expert said, noting that it will likely enjoy longer range and endurance as well as higher efficiency and reliability.

Analysts said that the Wing Loong-1E could be comparable with the MQ-1C Gray Eagle of the US.

The MQ-1C Gray Eagle has a maximum gross takeoff weight of 1,633 kilograms, a fuel capacity of 261 kilograms, an internal payload capacity of 261 kilograms and an external payload capacity of 227 kilograms, with a service ceiling of 8,839.2 meters, a maximum endurance of 25 hours and speed of 309 kilometers an hour, according to the website of its maker, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

Compared with its predecessor the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle uses a heavy fuel engine that provides increased horsepower and significantly improved fuel efficiency, utilizing either jet or diesel fuel.

Capable of carrying electro-optical and infrared sensors, synthetic aperture radar, communication relay and four Hellfire missiles, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle can carry out persistent reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and attack operations, according to its maker.

The Chinese Wing Loong-1E will offer a cost-efficient choice in the international market, analysts said.

Besides the Wing Loong-1E, the Wing Loong drone family includes the original Wing Loong-1, the upgraded Wing Loong-1D, the larger Wing Loong-2, and the high-speed Wing Loong-10.

Users of the Wing Loong series drones include the Chinese People's Liberation Army and many armed forces around the world, according to reports.