A section of fuselage for China’s large amphibious aircraft AG-600 completed and ready for delivery in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province, on April 26.[Photo/China Daily]
China will be able to use its first domestically developed amphibious plane to enhance its operational capability at sea and safeguard its maritime interests, according to the aircraft’s chief designer.
“The primary uses of the AG-600 will be forest fire control and maritime search and rescue,” Huang Lingcai told China Daily on April 27. “But it can also play an important role in law-enforcement tasks at sea and other maritime operations that protect our rights and interests.”
The plane is due to make its maiden flight in the first half of next year. Huang was speaking after a ceremony in Han-zhong, Shaanxi province, marking the delivery of its rear fuselage.
The 17.5-meter section was manufactured by the Shaanxi Aircraft Corp, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China, the company that designed and is building the plane.
The 40-meter long AG-600 will be the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia’s Beriev Be-200, Huang said. A number of foreign nations have inquired about the plane.
“Such aircraft have special and significant functions that are essential to maritime powers,” Huang added. He declined to say whether the People’s Liberation Army navy has contacted AVIC or whether the military will buy the plane.
Leng Yixun, director of general aviation products at AVIC, revealed that 17 orders for the aircraft have been received from domestic customers, including several private general aviation enterprises.
Huang said the plane will be able to fly a round trip between Sanya in Hainan province and the Zengmu Ansha reef, the southernmost point of China’s territory, without refueling. The aircraft will be powered by four turboprop engines.
Huang said the country has decommissioned all its seaplanes, which were reported to be at most five SH-5 maritime patrol aircraft.
Wang Yanan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said: “The SH-5s were old and could not perform modern maritime search-and-rescue tasks. The country urgently needs a large amphibious aircraft such as the AG-600.”
The new plane, previously known as the D-600, will have a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 metric tons and an operational range of 4,500 kilometers. It will be able to carry out a range of tasks including transporting passengers and cargo, resource surveys and marine environmental monitoring.
“The seaplane’s major users will be government departments such as forestry authorities, coastguards and maritime safety bureaus,” Leng said. “We estimate our country will need at least 100 such seaplanes in the coming 15 years.”
Richard Bitzinger, coordinator of the Military Transformations Program at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Defense News that planes such as the AG-600 will be perfect for supplying the artificial islands the country is building in the South China Sea.