Thousands of military enthusiasts were online on Wednesday morning, hoping to “witness” the first test flight of the J-31, which had conducted two high-speed taxiing tests on Tuesday morning and was expected to take off on Wednesday.
Without an official code name, the prototype bears the provisional designation J-31 and has “31001” painted on both sides under its cockpit.
An unknown number of enthusiasts on Wednesday morning were stationed outside an airfield of the Shenyang Aircraft Corp, which belongs to the Aviation Industry Corp of China and is a major designer and manufacturer for the Chinese air force. The witnesses published almost all details of the test flight after it began at 10:32 am.
Photos that showed the J-31 in flight and accompanied by two J-11BS fighters were posted on major Chinese military forums.
“It is amazing! Now China has become the second nation, after the United States, to simultaneously develop two fifth-generation fighters,” a netizen using the name wenwutuan said on cjdby.net, one of China’s biggest military websites.
“Today is absolutely a historic day,” said another Internet user, dzz2002. “Though we still have a long way to go before calling China a strong aviation power, we can proudly say that we have made great strides in achieving this goal.”
According to the accounts of military enthusiasts who claimed to witness the test and their photos, the radar-evading aircraft conducted a 10-minute flight with its landing gear in the lowered position.
Zhai Dequan, deputy secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said he had not expected that J-31 would make the debut so soon after the maiden flight of the J-20 in January 2011.
The J-20 is a fifth-generation twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft prototype developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. Since its first flight, at least two prototypes have carried out several test flights.
Zhai said the J-31 will pair up with the J-20 in combat and possibly serve on aircraft carriers.
He said the J-31 can match the US’ F-35 Lightning II in future performance and may boast better avionics. But the real concern is the quality of its engine.
“We hope engines made in China can be used on the fighter jet soon,” Zhai said. China has relied heavily on imported engines for its domestically developed aircraft, experts said.
Zhai said the revelation of the J-31 shows that China will work hard on “active defense”.
“The People’s Liberation Army will have greater command of the air at coastal and offshore regions with the service of J-31,” he said.
The J-31 has three traits that make it suitable for service on aircraft carrier: its medium size, its reliability and multiple functions, according to Du Wenlong, a senior researcher at the Academy of Military Science of the PLA.
Xu Yongling, a former test pilot and military aviation expert, told People’s Daily on Thursday that China has a limited number of potential choices for fighters that can be deployed on its aircraft carriers.
Judging from the landing gear and its comparatively superior mobility compared with the J-20, it is possible that the J-31 is designed to be launched from an aircraft carrier, military expert Andrei Chang told Agence France-Presse.
However, a time-consuming testing process means the aircraft is unlikely to enter active service for nearly a decade.
“It will take at least seven or eight years before it can be sold commercially,” Chang said.
The J-31 could possibly be exported in the future, Xu said, suggesting some foreign countries may turn to China for its advanced fighters.