China Unveils Lead-in Fighter Trainer; Carrier Variant Next?
By WENDELL MINNICK
ZHUHAI, China — China has unveiled its first lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) aircraft for fourth-generation training at the 8th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition (Zhuhai Airshow 2010), China’s biggest commercial and defense aviation show.
About 70 aircraft from 35 countries and more than 600 domestic and foreign exhibitors showcased their products, including flight demonstrations by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the Pakistan Air Force.
The twin-engine supersonic trainer is the latest of three variants of the L-15 Hunting Eagle produced by Hongdu Aviation, a subsidiary of the China Aviation Industry Corp. (AVIC). The L-15 LIFT demonstrated a variety of aerial maneuvers at the show, which ran from Nov. 16-21 in China’s southeastern province of Guangdong.
AVIC and Hongdu officials provided new details about the aircraft during a joint press conference here. An AVIC official did not rule out a potential carrier-based variant in the future. Depending on the requirements of the Chinese military, “we will do our best,” said Li Yuhai, AVIC Defense deputy president.
China’s aircraft carrier ambitions are in full steam as refurbishment of the former Soviet carrier, the Varyag, continues at Dalian Shipyard. China has faced difficulties acquiring aircraft for carrier missions. Russia has repeatedly rejected Chinese offers to buy Su-33 fighters. An L-15 carrier trainer variant might serve in a variety of roles, including attack and reconnaissance missions.
Designed and built by Hongdu, the debut of the LIFT variant follows the unveiling in 2009 of the L15 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) at the Dubai Air Show. AVIC is attempting to enter the international fighter trainer market and is pushing the AJT, LIFT and a “companion variant” as possible competitors against the Russian Yak-130, Korean KAI T-50 Golden Eagle and Italian Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master trainers.
The L-15 LIFT conducted its first flight Oct. 20, said the L-15’s chief architect, Zhang Hong, Hongdu vice general manager. The new trainer was re-engineered with more powerful Ivenchenko afterburning engines. The earlier L-15 ADT has “nonafterburner” engines, he said.
The new Ukrainian-built engine allows for a better thrust-weight ratio. It was designed specifically for the L-15, and “we have good cooperation with Ukraine on the L-15 program,” he said. The new engines give the LIFT variant better maneuverability than many thirdgeneration fighters, he said.
During the flight demonstration at Zhuhai, the L-15 LIFT demonstrated a short takeoff and loop at full afterburner, a high banking turn, low-speed level flight, continuous roll, and vertical and horizontal maneuvering capability. The aircraft can take off in less than 300 meters, Zhang said.
The nose section of the LIFT variant has been modified to accommodate a phased array radar. The glass cockpit has one head-up display and three multifunction displays, which allow the LIFT variant to better simulate a fourthgeneration fighter.
It is clear that AVIC is enthusiastic about its export potential.
“We can deliver this aircraft in two years’ time from the date of contract,” Li said.
Ukraine was mentioned as a possible export customer.
In comparison to competitor aircraft, the L-15 can perform as a trainer or in a combat role, including attack and reconnaissance, he said.
“As a trainer it must be safe and reliable,” Zhang said. “This aircraft has low fuel consumption and a long service life, which makes it economical.” AVIC has produced a variety of aircraft for the export market, including the JF-17/FC-1 fighter and K-8 trainer in a co-development program with Pakistan.
The Pakistan Air Force flew both the K-8 and JF-17 during demonstration flights at Zhuhai. One of the JF-17s on display was armed with AVIC-built weapons, including the SD-10 medium-range air-toair missile, C802A anti-ship missile and SL-6 glide bomb.
Pakistan officials at the airshow would not confirm reports that 250 JF-17 fighters would be outfitted with the SD-10 air-to-air missile.