The flight test center of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is about to test a new aircraft for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, according to Chinese publications.
Though the exact model of this mysterious military aircraft was not specified, it is of “great strategic and historical significance,” Ge Heping, the head of the flight test center, said during a staff meeting as reported by the local media outlet Guancha.
The news led many to speculate that the aircraft could be the H-20 bomber.
The Xian H-20 is described as a stealth strategic bomber capable of carrying hypersonic missiles over 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles). Presented as an answer to the United States Air Force B-2 Spirit and future B-21 Raider due to its similar flying wing design, the H-20 is due to replace the Xian H-6, a Chinese license-built variant of the Soviet Tu-16 Badger.
In the past few years, the H-6 was seen regularly testing the readiness of Taiwan, entering the island country’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
However, an anonymous expert quoted by the Chinese state-controlled tabloid Global Times asserted that there are other candidates of “strategic” importance.
Among them, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation is developing a carrier-based fifth-generation fighter jet based on its FC-31 “Gyrfalcon”. After being rejected by the PLAAF, which preferred its competitor, the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon”, the FC-31 is expected to find a second life as the preferred aircraft of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Currently, the sole Chinese carrier-capable fighter is the Shenyang J-15. But that local version of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 cannot be catapulted and thus needs a ski-ramp to operate, limiting its weight and range.
Renamed J-35 for the occasion, the fifth-generation fighter is expected to operate from the CNS Fujian, China’s third aircraft carrier, and the first to sport a flat deck and a catapult launch system (CATOBAR).