Friday, November 27, 2009

China’s L-15 Falcon Debuts at Dubai

Defense News



Dubai Airshow 2009

China’s L-15 Falcon Debuts at Dubai

AVIC Defence President Wang Yawei speaks during a news conference at the Dubai Air Show. Thomas Brown / Staff

By Wendell Minnick

Dubai – China debuted its new L-15 Falcon advanced jet trainer (AJT) at the Dubai Air Show, marking the first time the aircraft has been shown to the public outside of China.

Chinese officials from China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) gave a rare press conference on the L-15 AJT on Nov. 16. AVIC defense president Wang Yawei said the company had made strides in research and development of new aircraft and was anxious to explore the export market.

“The attendance of the L-15 is aimed at exploiting the international market,” he said. “There is a high demand of trainers of this type in the international market.”

Developed by the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, an AVIC subsidiary, the Falcon is a multi-purpose supersonic jet trainer. L-15’s chief architect, Zhang Hong, Hongdu vice general manager, said Falcon missions include advanced training, lead-in training, companion training and close air support. The aircraft will also come in a Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) and Companion Trainer variant.

“The L-15 is a new generation advanced trainer that provides solutions for pilot training,” Zhang said. The aircraft is “characterized by a modern aerodynamic configuration” and equipped with twin turbofan engines, fly-by-wire system and a glass cockpit.

The Falcon is powered by two Ukrainian-built Ivchenko Progress AI-222K-25F engines with a performance speed of Mach 1.4, a service ceiling of 16,000 meters and a range of 3,100 kilometers.

“The L-15 is a cost-effective replacement for old advanced jet trainers, an excellent platform to accumulate flight experience for pilots,” Zhang said. The aircraft is “capable of armed reconnaissance, defensive counter-air, close air support and anti-terrorism” missions.

AVIC officials denied the L-15 had appeared at the Moscow Air Show (MAKS 2009) in August, despite Internet blog reports the aircraft was exhibited. ”We had a model at the booth at Moscow, not the aircraft itself,” an AVIC official said Nov. 18, responding to confusion over the issue.

The news conference Nov. 16 was a surprisingly slick presentation for a company that has traditionally shied away from the media spotlight. Wang said the company would be exhibiting more advanced military aircraft at future international aviation shows. AVIC officials manning the booth said there were discussions on bringing the L-15 to the upcoming Singapore Air Show in February 2010 and the follow-on Paris Air Show in 2011.

AVIC officials manning the booth appeared relaxed and comfortable talking about their product line, a clear departure from previous aerospace and defense shows in the past, where company officials turned away media inquiries.

The AVIC booth displayed models and brochures on a variety of new aircraft and weapons systems, including the FTC-2000 supersonic advanced trainer, CZ-11MB1 light multi-purpose helicopter (Z-11 variant), the K-8 Karakorum jet trainer, the FC-1/JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter. Aircraft weapons systems included the winged 500-kg LS-6 standoff strike weapon and the SD-10A medium-range air-to-air missile. The SD-10A is a fourth-generation missile similar in configuration to the Raytheon AMRAAM AIM-120 missile. The 199-kg SD-10A has an operational altitude of 21 km with a range of 70 km at Mach 5.

The K-8 and the FC-1/JF-17 are joint aircraft development programs involving AVIC and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC). The K-8 was also on display at the show by PAC.

In a K-8 brochure, AVIC identified the engine outfitting the aircraft as a “proven Honeywell TFE-731-2A-2A turbofan engine,” but in a reference to the Chinese Hongdu JL-8 variant, it has a “flexible option for Ukraine [Ivchenko] AI-25TL turbofan engine.” The U.S. restricts the sale of equipment to China for use by the military.

AVIC has benefited from China’s booming economy and has expanded research and development of new aircraft and systems, Wang said. AVIC is also developing a new “200 ton military cargo aircraft” expected to be unveiled in December. The program is being jointly developed by AVIC and Xi’an Aircraft Industry Group.

In November 2008, the company reintegrated AVIC I and AVIC II into one entity in the hope of expanding opportunities in the export market and streamlining the company, he said.

AVIC was originally one consortium of aerospace companies, but in 1999 the corporation was split, retaining its original title, in an attempt to modernize its manufacturing facilities and competitiveness. AVIC I centered on sophisticated fixed-wing aircraft like fighters and bombers and AVIC II focused on smaller fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. However, the effort resulted in difficulties and AVIC I/II merged back together last year.