The Mitsubishi X-2, Japan’s first foray into the world of 5th generation fighter aviation, took to the skies for its maiden flight just yesterday, lifting off with the traditional gear-down configuration from Nagoya Airfield, home of the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation. Originally known as the ATD-X, the aircraft has been in development for over seven years, with no less than 220 domestic Japanese companies involved as program subcontractors. The flight lasted a total of 26 minutes, with the launch occurring at 0847 local time from Nagoya, and ending at 0913 local at Japan Air Self-Defense Force Gifu Airbase, escorted along the way by a Mitsubishi F-2 fighter.
The X-2 isn’t actually a fighter, however. Mitsubishi, and the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF), will instead use it as a technology demonstrator and a testbed to develop and mature concepts and hardware which they’ll eventually use on an indigenous 5th generation stealth fighter, presumably also built by Mitsubishi. The design of the aircraft is fairly similar to the broad architectural layout used on the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, but lacks the dark gray radar-absorbent coating the latter jets utilize to further diminish their radar cross section (RCS).
The X-2 actually only around 46 feet in length, in comparison to the F-35 which is 51 feet long, and the F-22 which is 62 feet long. It’ll fly, for the moment, with one pilot though there seems to be space for a second cockpit behind the primary. It includes thrust-vectored IHI XF5-1 turbofan engines which use three paddles (per engine), probably to afford it a three-dimensional vectoring ability unlike the F-22’s two-dimensional vectoring capabilities. Mitsubishi will also be testing a “Self Repairing Flight Control Capability”, which will allow the aircraft’s onboard computers to detect malfunctions or damage to flight control surfaces, and accordingly adjust the the aircraft to achieve stabilized flight, at least until the aircraft can return to base.
The ultimate goal of the X-2 program is to develop a fighter that can best anything China has to throw at it, including the country’s new J-31 and J-20 fighter aircraft, which are supposedly on the same playing field as other fifth generation fighters in development today. The X-2 actually has the F-22 Raptor to thank for its origin, as the program began when Japan’s attempts to buy the Raptor for the JASDF were shot down by the US government, with a formal prohibition on foreign sales of the F-22. Japan plans on procuring the F-35 Lightning II for the JASDF as well.