Since joining the Flightglobal team I've been burning to
write about the elephant in the room: China's aircraft carrier.
That she exists is beyond question. Formerly the Russian
carrier Varyag, the flattop is tied up in Dalian covered by scaffolding, a tantalizing plume of smoke rising from her island.
What's going on in there? Engines gearing up? Apparently she even has a name, Shi
Yang, and an auspicious number, 83. Shi Yang was an admiral who invaded Taiwan in 1861.
There is plenty of speculation on the Internet, but from the
Chinese navy only silence.
Being a military aviation fan (which, as luck would have it,
is now part of my job description) I can't help but think about the Shi Yang,
and the J-15 that might fly off it one day - especially after it was allegedly caught on film. I was hoping to see the J-15 (based
on the eighties-era Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D) appear at the recent air show in
Zhuhai, but no dice.
"Man, I'm certain this thing will put in appearance," says I
to a colleague before the show.
"No way," said he. "China doesn't like surprises."
He was right. Not only was the J-15 absent, but also the
copy of the Sukhoi Su-27, and any other Russian kit of note. And my exhaustive
searches through the sprawling show revealed not a single carrier illustration
- not counting the American carrier, all planes on her deck, getting pummelled by
Chinese missiles in one of the COSIC murals (the subject of a previous post).
There was also no mention or illustration (again,
unsurprisingly) of the much discussed base somewhere in China that has a runway
rigged like an aircraft carrier deck, apparently for pilot training.
What, exactly, is going on? When will the Shi Yang emerge?
Will she one day be operational? Or will she serve only as a training ship,
training cadres of naval aviators and sailors for some future,
built-entirely-in-China, fleet of super
carriers? Who knows? For now all we can do is ponder internet photos, and an
unsatisfying video of what is believed to be a J-15.