China’s 2nd AG600 ‘Kunlong’ Amphibious Aircraft, Touted As The World’s Largest, Completes Maiden Flight

Adding teeth to China’s air-marine power, the second of the four AG600 amphibious aircraft took to the sky for its maiden flight in a spectacular maneuver.

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China’s leading aircraft manufacturer, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), announced that the second AG600M amphibious aircraft prototype finished its first flight test mission on September 10 in Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, in southern China, CGTN reported.

Designated as Kunlong, the AG600 sizeable amphibious aircraft family is a significant component of China’s emergency-rescue infrastructure. AVIC created it to satisfy the requirements of maritime rescue missions, firefighting missions, and other vital emergency rescue operations.

According to AVIC, the aircraft operated well, and its systems were stable throughout the 22-minute flight. An amphibious aircraft can take off, land on both water and land, and be used for civilian and military purposes.

Although they cannot hover or land vertically, they can compete with helicopters for specialized operations at a much lower cost.

Amphibious planes can move farther and faster than helicopters because the wing of an aircraft is more effective than the lifting rotor of a helicopter.

EurAsian Times reported earlier this year that a new configuration of China’s AG600 big amphibious aircraft made its inaugural flight over Zhuhai, in the Guangdong Province of South China, on May 31.

The AG600, the Y-20 heavy transporter, and the C919 single-aisle passenger plane make up China’s major initiative to independently develop a “large aircraft family.”

AG600 is also the first large specialized aircraft of Chinese origin to be constructed per civil aircraft airworthiness standards.

The photo was taken on May 31, 2022, and shows a full-state new-configuration model of China’s AG600 large amphibious aircraft in Zhuhai, south China’s Guangdong Province.

The AG600 was a crucial program in China’s most recent five-year plan, which covers the 2021 to 2025 period. This was done in light of the country’s urgent need for an emergency rescue aircraft and the strategic importance of having equipment that can support its bases in the South China Sea.

This further becomes significant in light of tensions prevailing in the South China Sea. Recently, the Philippines’ ambassador to the United States hinted that the country was planning to expand American access to Manila’s bases to allow its troops to take off in case of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

It is common knowledge that China has heavily militarized its artificial islands in the South China Sea. US Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John C Aquilino revealed in March this year that Beijing had fully militarized the South China Sea.

China’s Amphibious Capabilities

The hybrid AG600 aircraft has a land and water takeoff and landing capability. It is designed to be used in maritime patrols, search and rescue operations, and putting out forest fires. It might also be deployed for resource exploration, oceanographic observation, and inter-island travel.

If the aircraft is based in the southern island province of Hainan, it will probably take four hours to travel anywhere in the South China Sea. It might run between the area’s Chinese-controlled islands as a cargo or passenger transport.

Once completed, the propeller-driven aircraft will outpace Russia’s BE-200 and Japan’s US-2 in size. Until China’s AG600 made its maiden flight in 2017, it was the largest amphibious aircraft in the world. Japan deployed it for logistical support, maritime patrol, search-and-rescue operations, battling fires, medical evacuation, etc.

Aerial view: China's AG600 amphibious aircraft makes maiden flight from water - YouTube
Aerial view: China’s AG600 amphibious aircraft makes maiden flight from water

According to reports, the US Air Force is also looking to develop a formidable amphibious capability. It reportedly seeks to create an amphibious C-130 Hercules transport version to support special operations from littoral areas. An amphibious plane on hand for emergencies becomes crucial given the sizeable American presence in the Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions.

According to AVIC, China will build a total of four prototypes of the full-configuration firefighting AG600M aircraft, which is a member of the family of large amphibious AG600 aircraft. The third and fourth AG600M aircraft prototypes are anticipated to fly for the first time this November and early 2023, respectively.

On May 31 and August 30, the first AG600M prototype completed its initial flights from the air and the sea, respectively. According to AVIC, the AG600M aircraft will begin performing firefighting missions in 2023 and will hit the market in 2025.