A surprise participant in the flying display of this year’s Airshow China is a Chengdu J-10B testbed equipped with a thrust vectoring control (TVC) engine.
The aircraft is likely powered by an advanced version of the indigenous Shenyang WS-10 engine equipped with a hinged nozzle.
Thrust vectoring can improve a fighter’s maneuverability, as it need not rely wholly on aerodynamic control surfaces. The appearance of the aircraft, and the very fact it was allowed to appear, could suggest a growing sense of confidence in China about domestically produced jet engines,.
The short display was reminiscent of flying displays performed by other fighters with thrust vectoring, such as the Sukhoi Su-35 and Lockheed Martin F-22. Trailing pink smoke, the J-10B TVC’s routine included tight vertical loops, a slow high angle of attack roll, a cobra maneuver, and the falling leaf.
Primary applications for the WS-10 include the J-10 family and the J-11 – a Chinese copy of the Sukhoi Su-27. The other powerplant for the J-10 family is Russia’s Saturn AL-31FN, which is based on the AL-31F that powers the Su-27.
Advanced Chinese fighters such as the J-20 and FC-31 lack thrust vectoring. Only a small number of fighters use the technology, notably the F-22, Su-30, Su-35, and Su-57.
The original version of the J-10, the J-10A, also appeared in the flying display, as it is used by the August 1st display team. The most advanced version of the J-10, the J-10C, did not make an appearance. That variiant is distinguishable by an additional missile approach warning system (MAWS) on the tail. In addition, it has an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
It is not clear if thrust vectoring will be applied to future members of the J-10 family.