Chengdu puts back Super-7 flight tests

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BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE

Updated schedule will be decided in first week of August

Chengdu Aircraft has delayed the start of the FC-1/Super-7 lightweight fighter flight test programme by at least two months, but is close to completing the final round of ground tests.

China initially scheduled a June launch ceremony that was to include high-level officials from joint venture partner Pakistan. But Pakistani sources say the ceremony has been delayed until at least August and they are now waiting for Chengdu to complete pre-flight checks.

Chengdu, which is responsible for manufacturing the first batch of aircraft with input from the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), rolled out the first prototype two months ago. Chengdu has since been verifying the aircraft's performance against the design parameters through a variety of partially completed tests.

"It's a long process," says a Pakistani defence official. "Quite a bit of headway has been made shortly it will be completed and the aircraft will be ready for maiden flight."

He adds that critical ground tests were being conducted in the second half of July and Chengdu should be ready to set a new launch date in early August.

PAC executives visited Chengdu last week to check on the progress of the tests, but a PAC official says an updated schedule will not be decided until the first week of August.

PAC has assigned engineers to help Chengdu develop the fighter and is expected to assemble around 200 Super-7s destined for the Pakistan air force. Workshare, however, will not be discussed until after the test flight programme is under way.

The Pakistan air force also has assigned pilots and commanders to Chengdu to look after production and participate in the test programme. Chengdu is assembling additional prototypes.

China has not yet committed to acquiring Super-7s, but replacements for Chengdu J-7s and Hongdu Q-5s will be required over the next few years.

PAC also hopes to lead an export campaign that would be aimed at operators of ageing J-7s,Q-5s, Mikoyan MiG-21s and Northrop F-5s.