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China’s AG600M Amphibious Aircraft Prototype Achieves Test Success; Search & Rescue Plane Can Be Used In Military Ops

China’s leading aircraft manufacturer, Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), has announced that they have successfully conducted the maiden flight of the fourth AG600M firefighting aircraft prototype in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province.

On February 25, the aircraft carried out several pre-planned flight test subjects during the 17-minute flight. The plane displayed excellent performance with its control system and all other systems functioning steadily, said AVIC. 

The latest flying test’s success suggested that all four AG600M prototypes have started their flight test phase to obtain the airworthiness certification, AVIC added. 

The AVIC has built four prototype AG600M aircraft in total, and they are currently conducting relevant flight testing at various locations across the nation. 

The AG600 aircraft family, also known as Kunlong, or “water dragon” in Chinese, has been designed as essential aviation equipment to bolster China’s emergency rescue capabilities.

AG600M Photo: Gao Han
AG600M/ Photo: Gao Han

The aircraft can also be employed in maritime search, rescue, and other critical operations. The AG600M, a full-configuration firefighting model of the AG600 family, is made especially to fight forest fires. 

It can carry up to 12 tons of water and has a maximum takeoff weight of 60 tons. It can fly at low-altitude and a slow speed, allowing it to drop water on fires with precision.

The Chinese aircraft manufacturer believes that the year 2023 is critical for the evolution of this aircraft. Several ground and air tests are planned in 2023 to ensure the AG600M can perform firefighting missions. 

According to the AVIC, these tests will be performed to monitor progress toward receiving the airworthiness certification. 

The aircraft manufacturer will work to ensure that the AG600M firefighting-specialized aircraft receives the type certificate in 2024 and begins its maiden small-batch deliveries in 2025. 

Furthermore, the rescue-focused model of the AG600 aircraft family will also receive an expedited airworthiness certification by 2025. The firefighting variant has already shown its abilities in the past. 

On November 8, 2022, an AG600M aircraft demonstrated its water-dropping capability at the 14th China International Aviation and Aerospace Expo in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, South China.

Possible Use In Military Activities

AVIC and Chinese media have heavily stressed the AG600’s ability to respond to emergencies. Yet, due to its size and amphibious capabilities, the military may employ it for missions like combat search and rescue and transporting personnel and supplies to distant sites.

The AG600 is a member of the “large aircraft family” that China is building, along with the Y-20, a long-range cargo plane that China’s military recently utilized to transport humanitarian aid to Turkey. 

In a 2021 interview with Insider, Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, said that the AG600 has specialized but crucial capabilities and can access places that would be difficult to get otherwise. 

The US military withdrew its last seaplane before the Cold War ended. However, the USA’s increased attention to the Pacific and a potential clash with China has sparked a resurgence in interest in amphibious aircraft. 

Japan’s military has long used the competent US-2 amphibious aircraft for search and rescue missions. In 2022, the US Air Force trained with Japan’s US-2 Flying Boat as it was looking to develop its own amphibious aircraft.

A Japanese US-2 in the ocean near the island of Tinian during Cope North 22, February 14, 2022.US Air Force

In Early February 2023, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded a contract to two companies to design and develop an experimental seaplane capable of transporting large amounts of cargo on the water. 

Nevertheless, it is claimed that AGM-600 has better electronics than its Japanese equivalent, which makes sense considering how much newer it is. Yet, it is also said that AG-600 can be modified to carry out a more comprehensive range of missions. 

Furthermore, it is pointed out that the AG-600 is probably more reasonably priced than the Japanese amphibious aircraft. Some experts argued that Malaysia, Indonesia, and other archipelagic states would make excellent export destinations for this unique aircraft. 

In December 2022, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China announced that new orders had been secured for the country’s independently developed AG600M sizeable amphibious aircraft.

The buyer of the aircraft was kept a secret by the firm. Nonetheless, the orders demonstrate that the domestically produced sizeable amphibious aircraft is progressing toward a successful debut in the market. 

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