Flight tests of China’s Xian Y-20 transport aircraft are proceeding well, with the designer of the type claiming the aircraft has “set new records” for China.
In an interview with China Military Online published on the web site of China’s defence ministry, Y-20 designer Tang Chonghong says the commissioning date of the aircraft is confidential, but that test pilots for the Y-20 programme are undergoing training.
Tang says that all goals have been achieved, specifically in areas such altitude and speed. One area of particular focus appears to be stability during flight.
Following its well-publicised first flight in January 2013, there has been little official commentary about the Y-20. This contrasts with other high profile Chinese defence programmes, such as the routine flight testing aboard Beijing’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.
“The performance of Y-20 is very high,” says Tang. “It can adapt to relatively hard conditions and can land at small airports in mountain areas. In its design, the adverse weather conditions of frigid zone, high heat area and plateau as well as the runway situation are fully considered.”
One source familiar with large jet transport aircraft, however, questions the Y-20’s ability to land on rough fields. He notes that while its two main landing gear bogies have six wheels each, the wheels are arranged in a two-two-two pattern from front-to back.
Among other large jet transports, the Boeing C-17, which was designed with rough-field capability in mind, has two six-wheel main bogies, but in a three-three configuration. Russia’s Ilyushin Il-76 has two eight-wheel main bogies, in a four-four configuration.
Tang also played down speculation about a larger successor to the Y-20.
“The present main work is still to carry out the test flight on Y-20’s basic stability, the brother series is not yet considered,” he says. “Some plans on China’s large transport aircraft are still under discussion, which cannot be disclosed.”
The “plans” Tang’ alludes to could be the possibility that the Y-20 will be used as the basis of a future airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft. A Y-20 equipped for AEW&C would complement – and eventually replace - Beijing’s Il-76 based KJ-2000 aircraft. The type could also be modified to serve as a tanker.
AEW&C and air-to-air refuelling are seen as two key areas of weakness for China.