Chengdu J-20 Thrills at Zhuhai Airshow

The Chinese demonstrated the new J-20 at a public airshow for the first time this past weekend in Zhuhai.

Photo Credit: Aviation International News via Mike Yeo.


Photo Credit: Alex Zheng.

China’s Chengdu J-20 from the Chengdu Aerospace Company made its historic first public flight demonstration at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, China 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Hong Kong this weekend.

The J-20, rumored to be referred to as the “Mighty Dragon” by some, is a long-range air dominance fighter designed to perform similar roles as the U.S. F-22 Raptor and Russian T-50 PAK-FA.

There remain a number of puzzling aspects of J-20’s design attributes to analysts. J-20 has several seemingly conflicting design and performance parameters; it is a long-range interceptor with low-observable features but is aerodynamically optimized for the low speed, high-alpha flight regime. These themes seem to conflict when predicting Chinese doctrine for air-to-air engagements and does not reveal China’s vision of what tactical air dominance engagements would look like.

Is the aircraft designed to close with U.S. F-22’s at close range in an air combat maneuvering (ACM) engagement? Is it designed to perform close-in intercepts and attacks on armed Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV’s- “drones”)? Is it a long-range interceptor designed to engage strategic bombers at Beyond Visual Range (BVR)? Or, is J-20 an ambitious attempt at performing all three of these widely varying roles?

Despite questions about the J-20’s role the demonstration at Zhuhai appeared sensational. The brief demo featured two aircraft and did not seem restricted from aerobatics, as with current U.S. F-35 demonstrations. The J-20 performed rolls, a show-break, high bank angle turns and limited low speed, high-alpha maneuvers. And while J-20, as an air dominance aircraft, and F-35 as a multi-role joint strike fighter, have different roles the contrast between F-35 flight demonstrations and this first J-20 demonstration at Zhuhai is striking.

There have been conflicting reports of an export version of the J-20. A March 5, 2015 report in Defense Aviation filed by journalist Niva Shetty suggests the J-20 will not be exported; “The export of advanced Chinese military technology is prohibited,” Song said. “This is in order to keep J-20’s fifth-generation technology out of hostile hands.” There is no mention of who the source reported as “Song” is in the article. A subsequent article published today in the Wall Street Journal says, “China demonstrated its first stealth fighter in public for the first time, staging a brief display of military prowess and a promotion for eventual sales of stealth technology.”

The consensus among reports suggests that the J-20 may be restricted from export while the “Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is making an aggressive push to sell its J-31 stealth fighter to international customers” according to Dave Mujamdar’s report in the November 9th 2015 article in The National Interest.

Other media outlets have reported a similar doctrine: That J-31 may be slated for export to countries such as India while J-20 is reserved for Chinese use exclusively in protecting the contested East and South China Sea areas.

Regardless of the informational haze that remains around the J-31 and its smaller brother the J-20 this past weekend’s flight demo at Zhuhai appeared to have been a spectacular event and a significant milestone in aviation history.



About tomdemerly (21 Articles)
Tom Demerly has written for "Outside", "Velo-News", "Bicycle Guide", "Bicycling", "Inside Triathlon", "Triathlete", "Triathlon Today!", "USA Triathlon Magazine" and many other publications. He has raced endurance events on all seven continents and climbed the highest mountain on three. Demerly is four-time Michigan USA Cycling Champion and has completed over 100 triathlons around the world, Including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. In 1990 Demerly raced for the Nike/Velo-News/Gatorade Cycling Team in Belgium. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia and as a Scout Observer for Company "F", 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit.

1 Comment on Chengdu J-20 Thrills at Zhuhai Airshow

  1. ULISES VELEZ // November 2, 2016 at 04:43 // Reply


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