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'Flying Boat' Takes Off
China's aviation industry makes a splash by producing large amphibian aircraft
By Wan Di | NO. 34 AUGUST 25, 2016

 

The AG600, China's first homemade amphibious aircraft, rolls off the production line in Zhuhai, south China's Guangdong Province, on July 23 (XINHUA) 

The world's largest amphibious aircraft, a Chinese-made plane, rolled off the production line in late July in Zhuhai, South China's Guangdong Province. The event, which took place in front of an audience from industry, government and military contractors, underpinned a hard-to-achieve result for China, a latecomer in aircraft manufacturing.

More than 60 years ago, the American Hughes Aircraft Co., the leading airplane manufacturer in the world at the time, designed a similarly colossal amphibious plane--the Hughes H-4 Hercules--which ended up being shelved after testing. China's plane, designated the AG600, has made headlines around the world, as the country attempts to detach itself from a dependence on foreign aviation firms.

It has always been China's airplane industry's dream to be able to produce big planes independently. In November 2015, China's first homemade large passenger aircraft, the C919, was unveiled in Shanghai. It was developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China. In July this year, the Chinese Air Force welcomed the first homegrown heavy transport aircraft, the Y-20, to enter military service. The Y-20 has a maximum takeoff weight of around 200 tons, and it can carry cargo, large-scale vehicles and personnel over long distances. Developing and making the AG600 amphibian aircraft is a new milestone for the industry.

 

A sea monster

The AG600 is around the same size as a Boeing 737. The aircraft, which is an amalgamation of a plane and a boat, is 37 meters in length and has a wingspan of 38.8 meters. The plane's chief designer Huang Lingcai was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying: "The AG600 is like a ship that can fly, with advanced gas-water dynamic engineering and underwater corrosion-resistance technology."

The Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC), the AG600 maker, told Shanghai-based daily China Business News that the plane can take off from and land on a stretch of water 1,500 meters long, 200 meters wide and 2.5 meters deep. The AG600's maximum takeoff weight, flight range, cruising speed, and endurance are 53.5 tons, 4,500 km, 500 km per hour, and 12 hours, respectively. That means it can fly non-stop from China's northern-most city of Mohe in Heilongjiang Province to Sanya of Hainan Province in the south.

Versatility 

Currently, amphibious planes are used mainly for sea sightseeing both in China and overseas, so they are usually small. The AG600 is developed to construct a large and special-purpose civilian airplane, which is regarded as a necessary part of China's national facilities for emergency handling.

The new plane is mainly designed to fight forest fires and perform marine rescue missions. As such, the AG600 can collect 12 tons of water in 20 seconds, and transport up to 370 tons of water on a single tank of fuel. With extra maneuverability and a relatively large scope for searches, it is capable of rescuing up to 50 people located far offshore, AVIC told Xinhua.

China is a large ocean-bordering country, with its total coastline stretching for 32,000 km, including over 18,000 km of continental coastline. More than 6,500 islands dot its sea areas. The new amphibian aircraft fills a void in marine service, rescue and transportation. In addition, minor modifications can be made to allow it to do marine environmental monitoring, resource detection and marine law enforcement, according to AVIC.

The AG600 will excel in its sea service with "hard work and by standing fast to its responsibilities," Huang told Xinhua.

National project

According to an information bulletin issued by the aviation management division under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the development and creation of the AG600 was an important national project urgently needed for China's emergency management system. Since the project was approved by the State Council in 2009, AVIC has been conducting R&D and production based on the principle of "making an amphibian aircraft, making different types of the aircraft, and developing a series of the product." It also required that the technology of the plane be state of the art, on a par with advanced aircraft manufacturing standards.

According to the MIIT information bulletin, the AG600 is made up of more than 50,000 structural and system components, consisting of 1.2 million standard parts. Thanks to the national capability for technical development, 98 percent of the components and parts and 90 percent of the plane's equipment are provided by domestic suppliers.

The engine used on the AG600 is also a focus of widespread attention. The AVIC spokesman told China Business News that the four turboprop engines which power the AG600 are made in China and have already been used on other planes.

Zhang Shuwei, AVIC's AG600 deputy project manager, told China Business News that the AG600 will undergo systematic and very strict testing this year. It is expected that its maiden flight will take place before the year is over, though with a stress on safety. Since the AG600 is an amphibian aircraft, the testing procedure is much more complicated than that for other ordinary planes. For example, its water surface testing will not only be conducted at lakes and Chinese territorial waters offshore, it is also necessary to test the aircraft on the high seas in fierce weather conditions.

AVIC told Xinhua that the AG600 will mainly target the domestic market. Nonetheless, 17 orders of intent from overseas customers have already been received. Island countries, such as Indonesia and some Caribbean states, have also shown interest in purchasing.

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan  

Comments to yushujun@bjreview.com 

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