J-35, stealth drones and Sci-Fi fighters: China prepares for Zhuhai 2022

Weibo / South China Morning post

A host of new developments are slated to be showcased at Airshow China 2022, also known as Zhuhai Airshow. 

And, as workers prepare the show’s pavilions for the grand opening on November 8, 2022, a number of photographs appear to have been leaked to social media.  

Below are just some of the most interesting and unusual aircraft China will showcase at this year’s events.  

The FH-97A: China’s take on Boeing’s Ghost Bat  

A mockup of a loyal wingman drone, similar in appearance to the Boeing Ghost Bat, also known as the Airpower Teaming System, can be seen in some of the images.  

While outwardly almost identical to Boeing’s drone, the FH-97A appears to feature some differences, such as a sensor station on the top of the nose and two engines instead of Ghost Bat’s one.  

The model will be presented by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Curiously, last year’s Zhuhai Airshow 2021 featured the FH-97, which was a near-identical copy of the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie, another Western Loyal Wingman design.  

Read more: Zhuhai Air Show 2021: China’s weirdest aircraft projects  

MD-22 hypersonic drone  

In line with China’s numerous claims about advances in hypersonic flight technology, a mockup of a hypersonic technology demonstrator will also be on display at Zhuhai.  

Called the MD-22, it is described as a test platform for hypersonic technology and resembles some of the previous concepts and mockups displayed by the country’s military.  

The description, seen on a plaque near the aircraft, states that the MD-22 has a maximum speed of Mach 7, can be launched by a rocket or take-off autonomously, and perform scientific experiments in space.  

J-35 fifth-generation fighter sightings  

Some sources suggest that the J-35 light fifth-generation fighter jet has been spotted near Zhuhai in preparation for the airshow. However, other reports dispute the geolocation of the videos.  

Interestingly, the jet seems to be absent from the images of this year’s static display, despite featuring prominently in 2021.  

The J-35, rumored to become China’s carrier-borne fifth-generation fighter jet and a rival of the F-35C, is a modification of the FC-31 Gyrofalcon.  

The FC-31 first flew in 2012, and has remained in limbo ever since, never officially adopted by the Chinese military. Zhuhai 2021 featured its models seemingly geared for both naval service and export.  

Beyond the fifth-generation  

There are also several fighter jet mockups that seem to be straight from the pages of science fiction, one of which is being presented as China’s sixth-generation fighter concept, with its cross-section displayed inside a mode.  

The aircraft appears extremely like some renders connected to the US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.   

Read more: NGAD in pictures: What might the US’ sixth-generation fighter jet look like?  

It is a tailless flying wing, and a different design from some concepts displayed in 2021.  

There is an even more curious concept visible in the images: a mockup of a jet which resembles the Sukhoi Su-27 after a Sci-Fi makeover. 

With a distinct flat nose, segmented wings and opaque cockpit, the mockup could be part of a promotional campaign for an upcoming film or a video game, an artist’s imagining of what seventh-generation fighter jets might look like, a publicity stunt, or all the above. However, the chance that it represents a real project is slim.  

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