07 January 2013

Limited Liftoff Looming: Y-20 Transport Prepares for 1st Test Flight

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “Limited Liftoff Looming: Y-20 Transport Prepares for 1st Test Flight,” The Diplomat, 8 January 2013.

In 2011 and 2012, China flight-tested stealth fighter prototypes developed by Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (J-20) and Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (J-31). In 2013, Xi’an Aircraft Corporation (XAC) will look to get into the new aircraft game by flight-testing a prototype of the Y-20, an indigenously-developed large transport aircraft similar in size to the Russian IL-76 and somewhat smaller than the U.S. C-17. The Y-20 program is part of an effort to develop an indigenous long-range jet-powered heavy transport aircraft, a top priority in China’s “Medium- and Long-Term National Science and Technology Development Program (2006–20)” (MLP).

Now satellite images have revealed the Y-20’s presence at Yanliang airfield, near Xi’an, which hosts the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)’s China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE). There it reportedly began low-speed taxi testing on December 21, 2012. On  January 3, 2013, Aviation Industry of China (AVIC) Chairman and Party Secretary Lin Zuoming visited Yanliang to observe the situation there and offer his gratitude for contributions made and successes achieved by the numerous CFTE and XAC personnel who have been toiling to prepare testing and test flights. While it is only natural for an aviation executive to engage in such activities at a flight test center, the Y-20’s presence there nevertheless suggests that its test flight is one of the ones being readied. What will a Y-20 test flight suggest about China’s aviation development and military capabilities? … … …