The world’s largest amphibious aircraft, the Chinese-made AG600, carried out its maiden flight on Sunday morning in Zhuhai, a coastal city in Guangdong province.
An AG600, piloted by four crew members, took off from the Zhuhai Jinwan Airport at 9:50 am and remained airborne for about an hour before returning.
A congratulatory letter sent by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council was read out at a ceremony to mark the maiden flight, attended by Vice-Premier Ma Kai, Guangdong Party chief Li Xi as well as hundreds of other officials and about 3,000 spectators.
The central government approved development of the AG600 in June 2009, with the work taken on by Aviation Industry Corp of China, the country’s leading aircraft maker. Construction on the first prototype began in March 2014 and was completed in July 2016.
In April, the first ground taxiing test was successful. Earlier this month, the seaplane received the government’s approval for Sunday’s first flight.
AG600 is one of the three large-size aircraft borne from the nation’s ambitious effort to become a top-tier player in the global aviation sector, joining the Y-20 strategic transport plane, delivery of which to the Chinese Air Force began in July 2016, and the C919 narrow-body jetliner that is being flight tested.
The amphibious aircraft will mainly be tasked with performing aerial firefighting and maritime search and rescue. It can also be refitted to conduct marine environmental inspection, marine resources surveying and personnel and supply transportation, according to the manufacturer.
Powered by four domestically designed WJ-6 turboprop engines, AG600 has a size roughly comparable to that of a Boeing 737 and a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 metric tons. These specifications have made it the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia’s Beriev Be-200.
The aircraft can take off and land on both ground and water. It has an operational range of more than 4,000 kilometers and is capable of carrying 50 people during a maritime search-and-rescue mission.
To extinguish forest fires, it can collect 12 tons of water from a lake or sea within 20 seconds and then use the water to douse fires on an area of around 4,000 square meters, information from the company shows.
Huang Lingcai, chief designer of AG600, said researchers overcame a lot of technological and technical difficulties when they designed the aircraft, such as those pertaining to its aerodynamic and hydrodynamic airframe and sea wave-resistant hull.
The manufacturer said the aircraft will be of great importance to the country’s emergency rescue system and the building of a strong sea power, noting that tens of thousands of researchers and engineers from nearly 200 domestic institutes, universities and enterprises took part in the project.
The State-owned aviation giant also said 98 percent of AG600’s 50,000-plus components are supplied by Chinese companies, explaining the project has extensively boosted the nation’s civil aviation manufacturing industry.
Leng Yixun, a senior project manager in charge of the AG600, said China has about 18,000 km of coastline, more than 6,500 islands and reefs and a rapidly expanding marine industry, therefore it urgently needs an air-based platform capable of providing emergency-response support and conducting long-distance maritime search and rescue.
AG600 boasts a longer operational range and a faster speed when compared with helicopters and ships. The seaplane’s service will greatly improve China’s capability to conduct maritime search and rescue, he said.
Zhang Shuwei, deputy general manager of China Aviation Industry General Aircraft, an subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China that assembled the seaplane, said the company has received orders for 17 AG600s from domestic users. Zhang said the model primarily targets domestic buyers, but also will tap the international market.
Next, the aircraft will continue to make flight tests and will start the certification process, the manufacturer said.
Timeline for the development of AG600
Central government approves AG600 development project
Government and experts back an overall technical plan for seaplane
President Xi Jinping visits the AG600’s research and development facility during inspection tour to Zhuhai
Production starts on components to be used in prototype
Assembly of prototype begins in Zhuhai
Prototype rolls off assembly line
AG600 goes on display at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition
Aircraft undergoes first ground test
Seaplane conducts first ground taxiing test
Approval is given for the AG600 to make maiden flight
AG600 makes maiden flight at Zhuhai Jinwan Airport