The two-seat variant of the Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 Thunder fighter has conducted its first flight.

Reports and images on Chinese defence sites indicate that the jet conducted its maiden sortie on 27 April at 11:04 a.m. from Chengdu.

In early 2016, a programme official said the first flight would take place in late 2016, but Chinese Internet sources give no reason for the delay.

The official also said the two-seat version will be designated JF-17B, and that it has the same capabilities as the single-seat variant.

Apart from the extra seat, one significant change is a dorsal fin containing an additional fuel tank. This means the JF-17B’s fuel load is comparable to the single seater.

Imagery from China indicates that another difference is the vertical stabiliser. Apart from appearing larger, it also rises at a shallower angle.

The only operator of the JF-17 is the Pakistan Air Force. At the Paris air show in 2015, an official told FlightGlobal that a contract had been signed with an export customer, but the identity of the customer, and details of the contract, have yet to be revealed.

Powered by the Klimov RD-93 engine, the JF-17 is pitched as a low-cost fighter for developing world air forces.