J-20 photos: Fake alert or real thing?

My friend Bill Sweetman has forgotten more about military aviation than is Google-able, and he accepts new images of the J-20 — apparently snapped from the fenceline at the surprisingly accessible Chengdu aircraft factory — as factual reality. He might be right.

But I’m still skeptical.

It’s that inexplicably over-sized red star — which, to my eyes, resembles the roundel of the Russian Air Force more than the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, although is representative of neither –  that has my senses on full “fake alert”.

Judge for yourself.


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23 Responses to J-20 photos: Fake alert or real thing?

  1. jejetcal1 27 December, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    Time will tell.
    If it’s real and not an evolutionary dead end, we’ll be seeing more of it.
    The questions are:
    Can China come up with an engine sufficient for the airframe to reach its potential?
    Are the avionics/fire control stealthy enough?
    Will it end up like the B-2 with only a few built?
    Could this be the final incentive for DoD to sell the F-22 to Japan?

    Belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

  2. Ed 27 December, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Well, considering the crowd that is present:


    It’s hard to imagine China’s government can keep all pictures off the internet. However, if I’m not mistaken there wasn’t even an attempt to remove the picture you show – that means that either it is indeed fake, or they actually want this leaked. Or it had spread so far that messing with it would only prove its accuracy.

    Note that there have been several pictures of it too, from various angles:


    They sort of all match. It also possibly matches one earlier ‘engineering leak’ (whilst contradicting others – of course that would happen if the leaks simply differ), if you observe the tail:


    I do find the tail tiny for such a big plane, especially considering that it seems to have canards (which probably means good maneuverability was one of the criteria). Wouldn’t this only make sense if it has 3D trust vectoring?

    In any case the front’s similarity to the F-22 is uncanny. If this is really the real thing, the US may have some military leaks to plug. ;)

  3. TJ 27 December, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    It could just be the PLA Star? Some J-10s have been known to carry the star as part of their colour scheme.

    PLA Star link


  4. mzungu 27 December, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    I am skeptical too, because most manufactures put in a good size pitot-tube or forgo the paint job on prototypes…

    unless then gotten so good at conformal sensors…
    which I haven’t seen used in Chinese fighters.

    it’s one giant step from able to copy a 4th gen to inventing a new 5th-gen on there own. it’s a lot of different technology that have to come together.., for them to master.

  5. Stephen Trimble 27 December, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    TJ – That link undeniably shows an image of a Chinese star, but it is not the PLAAF roundel. The PLAAF roundel includes a horizontal double-stripe running through the star. The roundel also is almost always painted on the fuselage and not on the tail, and is never that huge. That doesn’t mean Chengdu wouldn’t deviate from custom for this occasion, but you have to acknowledge it would be unusual.

    It’s entirely possible we are looking at the next Chinese fighter, but I need more than this photo — or any other number of similarly blurry images — to declare it a fact.

  6. Mark 27 December, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    Not to over analyze what is happening, however I think we are looking at 2 groups of photos taken at different times. In the first set of photos, the aircraft is sitting on the apron and the foliage is showing leaves on them and sky appears to be late summer. The second group which includes the aircraft on what appears to be the taxiway shows no foliage and the grass and sky look like what I expect in Chengdu in late fall/early winter (Chengdu is rather warm in the winter). On this group of photos we do not see the star. So we are either looking at the same aircraft in different states of paint or 2+ aircraft.

  7. Stephen Trimble 27 December, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    Now I remember where I’ve seen that ridiculously huge red star. It’s identical to the star painted on the Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut. Consider my skepticism of the legitimacy of the above photo elevated by about 1,000%.

  8. MrSatyre 27 December, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    I’ve been skimming the majority of negative comments posted here and over at Sweetman’s post, and thought I’d throw in my two cents to play devil’s advocate:

    1. The Chinese are amazingly talented rip-off artists. They can (and do) copy just about anything the get their hands on, legitimately (through purchases from Russia, which bafflingly continues to sell state-of-the art weapons systems to their closest competitor in the “if they can invent it, we can copy it and make it cheaper” neighbor), and through outright espionage and copyright infringement.

    2. The Chinese government clearly has never cared what the cost is to their people’s welfare or to international opinion or expectations of China in pursuing their various paranoid national security issues. Communist governments are, by example, militant dictatorships whose first, second and third priorities are control through intimidation. So, that being said, is it really so unlikely that they could have used technology and expertise originating in other superpower nations which they then fine-tuned to meet their own agendas to rush such a design to prototype and finally production model so that they can further intimidate their neighbors and trading partners?

    We can all agree simply by looking at it that it’s not an original design. If it was wingless and flew backwards, and boasted quantum flux torpedoes, then maybe some of this skepticism would be understandable. But because it’s NOT an original design, and has elements of many proven designs, it’s worth looking at more seriously. Who cares if those elements don’t mesh together flawlessly now? The Chinese are masters at reverse-engineering and figuring out how to do it better and cheaper.

    Someone in another forum said in response to a nay-sayer “You’re too over relaxed. That’s the first step towards failure.”

  9. jetcal1 27 December, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    A few observations:

    1. Often in aviation form will not only follow function, but also follow design trends.
    I would not consider that as copying a design as such.
    Back in the day it was:
    1. Twin tails
    2. Box intakes
    3. VG wings

    Now it’s:
    Optimized for Mach 1.7
    Fix Inlets
    Cleaner wings
    Single tail

    I would hasten to caution you that to dismiss an entire nation’s aerospace industry as a copy cat industry may blind you to actual advances in design that may have actually been made. The Russians and the Japanese both made some pretty formidable aircraft in their day that were influenced by Western design. And some of the Soviet designs were done in design prisons established by Stalin.

  10. Stephen Trimble 27 December, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    Mr Satyre,

    My skepticism is not rooted in the capabilities of Chinese industry to produce a next generation fighter. It is entirely possible that a next generation fighter is advanced ground tests at Chengdu. My skepticism is, however, rooted in the fact that very high quality, photoshop’d images of J-20s are a dime a dozen on the Internet, and we have no idea where these photos came from. I also ask why the Chinese air force, which is justifiably proud of its technological achievements, would paint a roundel on their most advanced prototype that could be easily confused with a Russian symbol, and not look at all like the PLAAF’s own roundel?

  11. Dawhipper 28 December, 2010 at 2:04 am #

    Consider the roundel a company thing. The aircraft has not been in the hands of PLAAF yet. As far as I know, the pictures have been examined by several photo-authenticity softwares, none indicated manipulation.

  12. alloycowboy 28 December, 2010 at 5:48 am #

    At the most it’s a full size mock up of some sort to run stealth Radar Cross sectional tests. Northtrop builds mock up aircraft like these all the time.


  13. Bern 28 December, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Curiously, there was a reference to the J-11 & J-12 on the comments to Bill Sweetman’s post, so I googled the J-12 to see what it looked like.

    This page was one of the first hits. Scroll down to Post #333. Obviously a computer rendering, but the shape is remarkably similar to the above pic. What that means, I don’t know…


  14. Charlie Davies 28 December, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    On Militaryphotos.net the guy signatory said the Chinese star is used for shows and PR such as on the J-10 display team. Perhaps it’s a mockup or the real deal but I think the photos are legit anyhow.

  15. Lightndattic 28 December, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    I’m of the opinion that the photos are real, but I’m not convinced that’s a flyable (or even taxi-able) aircraft. I think it’s a mockup of what the Chi-coms are thinking their 5th Gen would look like.

  16. Ed 28 December, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    It’s not all that similar. Observe the tail. On the above picture, the trailing edge has a very different angle compared to the one you pointed at. Granted, the rest seems rather the same, but I think it’s clear where the inspiration came from…

  17. Stephan Wilkinson 28 December, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    Why does everybody keep calling a star a “roundel”? What part of “round” don’t you understand? Roundel is a term that goes back to heraldry, and means “a disc.”

  18. TJ 28 December, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    I think that you were far too skeptical. The star has been used before. For example on the J-7 Chinese aerobatic team.


    Obviously since then a close-up of the J-20 wing with a standard roundel has appeared.

    Obviously I have seen your latest thread.

  19. MrSatyre 28 December, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    Well, clearly I did not state my position in such a way that agreed with your observations, and for that I apologize.

    I never dismissed their aerospace efforts; in fact, I did exactly the opposite. I mentioned several times their efficiency and expertise in understanding technologies which they themselves did not have a part in developing, but in making them better. As you correctly point out, advances can and have been made. I did not ever say that this was not the case in China.

    I merely pointed out that China is a copy-cat nation. They buy and copy weapons from Russia. They buy and copy computers from the US, Europe and Japan. They buy and copy avionics instruments from US companies such as Boeing. They buy and copy nuclear technology for power stations. These are just a few of many, many well-documented instances of copy-cat behavior. I am unaware of any evidence to the contrary.

    It is for precisely those points that you and I have made that we need to be less skeptical and more wary. The Chinese are just as capable of developing high-tech weapons as we are…only they have more desire to do so.

  20. jetcal1 28 December, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    You are da’ man. Thank you for phrasing your reply in such a way as to go back and re-read it.
    Some day I hope our aerospace industry can get past faster, better, cheaper. (Pick any two)

  21. Stephan Wilkinson 28 December, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

    “I think that you were far too skeptical. The star has been used before. For example on the J-7 Chinese aerobatic team.”

    Not saying it hasn’t been used before, just saying it’s not “a roundel”. Stardel?

  22. diamond7303 5 January, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    This is a real thing of J-20 PLAAF new stealth Advanced technology fighter with their own engine named WS-15. Mr. Bill Sweetman guessed wrong already.
    Look at those real photoes:

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