Chinese J-20 Stealth Fighter Advances
Jan 31, 2012
By Bill Sweetman
Every indication is that nobody in Western intelligence saw the Chengdu J-20 coming. While it was known that China was developing a stealthy combat aircraft, the J-20 has emerged earlier than expected and appears to be more mature than the X‑plane or demonstrator that many people anticipated.
The debut of the J-20 had been predicted in a November 2009 interview on Chinese television by Gen. He Weirong, deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. The general said at the time that a “fourth-generation” fighter would be flown in 2010-11 and be operational in 2017-19.
At least two J-20 prototypes were complete by the time the aircraft made its first flight—or at least its first public flight—on Jan. 11, 2011. The two aircraft are distinguished by the detail design of their exhaust nozzles, leading to speculation that one of the aircraft has Russian-supplied AL-31F engines, of the type fitted to the Chengdu J-10, and the other has the Chinese-developed WS-10 engine.
The J-20 is a big aircraft. Although its overall length (around 66 ft.) is not much greater than that of the 62-ft. Lockheed Martin F-22, the main structure from nose to exhaust nozzles is considerably longer. Like the F-22, it has large weapon bays in the lower fuselage and smaller side bays, the latter probably dedicated to air-to-air missiles.
The J-20 echoes the canard configuration of the J-10, but with canards level with, and immediately in front of, the wing. Two small, canted, all-moving vertical stabilizers are fitted. Although no U.S. manned stealth aircraft have flown with canards, a tail-first layout was featured by early Joint Strike Fighter designs, including Lockheed Martin’s—which the J-20 resembles—and McDonnell Douglas’ X-36 unmanned demonstrator.
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