New images of China’s FC-31 Gyrfalcon stealth prototype have been doing the rounds of social media. According to a photograph circulating on the social media network, Weibo, that could not be verified, it suggests that the jet has undergone modifications.
FC-31, that strives to match the American F-35, is pictured with its fuel-guzzling afterburners as it attains altitude. The logo of state-owned developer the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is also clearly visible on the jet.
China’s FC-31 is the second indigenous stealth fighter after the Chengdu J-20. It took its maiden flight in 2012 and has been showcased at several air shows to attract buyers.
However, unlike the J-20, FC-31 didn’t even receive orders from the Chinese Air Force, even though it was primarily designed for use by the service.
Analysts have said that the developers would now be looking to adapt it for the new generation of Chinese carriers.
Even the canopy over the cockpit also appears to have changed to a design more like the one used in China’s other stealth fighter, the J-20, wrote Liu Zhen of SCMP.
The Shenyang FC-31 provides extraordinary maneuverability, stealth features, and an internal weapons bay, besides superior avionics and sensors providing enhanced situational awareness, improved radar tracking & targeting capabilities, and integrated electronic-warfare systems.
According to Shanghai-based military analyst Shi Lao, the project to develop a new fighter suggests that the developer is now focusing on a naval version, probably a catapult-assisted design.
Although, both the active Chinese aircraft carriers, Liaoning and Shandong have only ski-jump decks, the new carriers will use a catapult launch system. With the weight of not more than 25 tonnes, the fifth-generation jet is lighter than J-20 which has a maximum weight of 37 tonnes. This would make it easier to adapt to the use of carriers.
Shi told SCMP that even if the naval variation enters testing next year, the developers will be a long way from adapting it for carrier landings. “The key difficulty will still be the same old problem for Chinese fighters, the engine.” The engine is based on a 1970s Soviet design.
Even though the FC-31 failed to give a competition to Lockheed Martin’s F-35, it has some striking similarities with the American fighter jet.
The FC-31 has a maximum take-off weight of 25 tonnes, a combat range of 1,200km (746 miles) and a top speed of Mach 1.8, or 2,205km/h (1,370mph). On the other hand, F-35 Lightning II has a maximum take-off weight of 27 to 32 tonnes, a range of up to 2,200km (1,367 miles), and a top speed of Mach 1.6.
The Chinese FC-31 has a weapons payload of 8 tonnes, compared with 6.8 to 8.1 tonnes for the American F-35.
The recent progress on the FC-31 implies that the shifted focus on the naval version of the stealth fighter may start testing the new jet next year. In a social media post, the developer said that the progress is still on track despite the Covid-19 pandemic. “Judging by current progress, our work can be delivered on schedule and the test flight of the new type aircraft can be guaranteed without delay.”