The China Defense Blog and other Chinese defence sites have revealed photos of a mysterious airframe travelling aboard the back of a truck, apparently from the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation to Xian Aircraft Company.
This is no J-20 moment: there has yet to be a magical appearance on a runway, followed by obsessive tweeting and blogging about a first flight.
In the photos this new fighter airframe is draped by a camouflage covering and is riding unglamorously along a highway. It bears a morbid resemblance to those photos of retired RAAF F-111's being towed to museums or landfills. Either the tail has yet to be mounted or was remove to help the rig pass under bridges. In any case this isn't a real aircraft just yet, just a large portion of an aircraft to be.
Some bloggers have speculated that this new type is a supplement to the heavy weight, MiG-31-class Chengdu J-20, which continues flight tests at Chengdu. One blogger even said it could be an export type to compete with the F-35. This export idea is a bit farfetched: China (with Pakistan) needs to get JF-17 sales off the ground before even pondering something as ambitious as an F-35 alternative.
So what is it? Judging from the photos, the type will have two engines. Unlike the J-20, there does not seem to be an obvious place for canards. I am intrigued by the protrusion just above the intake. This is too far along the fuselage for the cockpit. Dare I suggest that this is a lift fan door, similar to that found on the F-35B? That would be cool.
Flightglobal will be at Zhuhai in force this November. With luck we will learn more there - or perhaps this aircraft will one day make a J-20 style appearance, surprising us all.