Type: Medium tactical transport Designer: AVIC Xi'an Aircraft Design Institute (603 Institute) Manufacturer: AVIC Shaanxi Aircraft Industry Corporation First flight: 25 December 1974 Introduction: 1978 Operators: PLA Air Force, PLA Ground Force (Army Aviation), PLA Naval Air Force Crew: 4 In-flight refuelling: No
The Y-8 is a four-engine turboprop transport developed from the Russian Antonov An-12 (NATO code name: ‘Cub’). First introduced in 1974, the aircraft has been developed into a family of over 30 variants introduced including transport, helicopter carrier, maritime patrol, surveillance, AEW, UAV carrier, communications relay, electronic intelligence, and electronic warfare. The various variants of the Y-8 are in service with the aviation elements of three service branches of the PLA: Air Force (including the Airborne Corps), Naval Air Force, and Army Aviation Corps.
China obtained a small number of the An-12 in the 1960s. In 1968, the PRC’s Ministry of Aeronautics was tasked with the development of an An-12 copy through reverse-engineering. The development work was initially carried out by the Xi’an Aircraft Design Institute (603 Institute) and Xi’an Aircraft Factory. The first prototype (#01) made its maiden flight on 25 December 1974. The development project was subsequently transferred to Base 012 (now Shaanxi Aircraft Industry) in Hanzhong. The Hanzhong-made prototype (#02) first flew on 20 December 1975, followed by prototype #03 in January 1977. The aircraft was certified for design finalisation in February 1980.
The Y-8 has high-mounted wings with drooping outer wing panels, back-tapered leading edges, straight trailing edges, and blunt tips. Four Zhuzhou Wojiang-6 (WJ-6) turboprop engines are mounted under the wings’ leading edges. The round, slender body features a stepped cockpit and glassed-in nose, with landing gear pods which bulge at lower body midsection. The tail flats are unequally tapered with blunt tips and mounted high on the fuselage. The fin is tapered with a blunt tip and a step in the leading edge.
The Y-8’s cargo compartment can be easily reconfigured for carrying passengers, paratroopers, or stretchers. The size of the cargo compartment is 13.5 m x 3 m x 2.4 m, which can accommodate 96 armed soldiers; or 82 paratroopers; or 60 stretchers plus 23 lightly wounded patients and 3 medics; or 16 t of containers; or 20 t of loose cargo. The aircraft can perform high- and low-altitude airdrops of troops, vehicles and cargo. The basic variant Y-8 can air drop pallets of 1 m, 2 m, 4 m and 6 m in size. A single maximum airdrop is 7.4 t. A pallet can be air dropped within 6 seconds. The aircraft can take off and land on dirt runways (grass, snow, and muddy).
The Y-8 is fitted with radio communications and navigations, Doppler navigation radar, autopilot, radio compass, altitude radio altimeter, maker beacon receiver, rear warning receiver, and identification friend or foe (IFF). The aircraft is capable of all-weather, day/night flight.
The basic variant Y-8 was a rather direct copy of the An-12, with a slightly modified ‘glass-in’ nose copied from the design of the Xi’an H-6 bomber. This variant only had the front-half of its fuselage pressurised, while the cargo cabin was unpressurised. Early production variant of the Y-8 inherited the An-12’s tail turret which mounts a twin 23mm cannon, but this was removed on later variants.
Introduced in November 1985, the Y-8A variant was designed to ferry the valuable S-70C Black Hawk helicopters in service with the PLA between their rear bases and the frontier airfields in Tibet. The airframe was specially modified to accommodate a single S-70C.
In the late 1980s, under the assistance of Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin), Shaanxi introduced the improved Y-8C. This variant features a fully-pressurised cabin which allows the aircraft to fly at high altitudes. The original inward-open two-piece cargo loading doors were replaced by a single-piece flat loading ramp similar to that of the C-130. Lockheed provided assistance in the aircraft’s design and also sent its test pilots to carry out some flight testing.
Based on the Y-8C, Shaanxi has also developed the Y-8CA radar testbed and Y-8CI export variant transport (upgraded with Western-made avionics).
The Y-8D is the export variant transport, fitted with Western-made avionics to meet the requirements for commercial flights. Its avionics include Collins flight director system (FDS), air data computer, VOR/ILS, comparing warning, TDR-90 air traffic control receiver, VHF radio, Honeywell P-400 colour weather radar, Litton LTN-311 Omega navigation system, Bendix/King HF communication, Sundsstrand universal flight data recorder (UFDR), and cockpit voice recorder (CVR).
In 1986 the PLAAF requested a new carrier to replace its ageing Tu-4 bomber for carrying and launching the Wu Zhen-5 (WZ-5) unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle (UARV). Shaanxi began to develop the Y-8E UAV carrier based on the Y-8C airframe in October 1988. The first prototype was finished in March 1990, and the first UAV launch test was carried out successfully in October of the same year. The aircraft entered service with the PLAAF in 1990.
The Y-8H is the aerial survey and photography variant.
The Y-8F was introduced in 1993 as a commercial freighter.
The Y-8F100 is the commercial freighter version with upgraded avionics. The aircraft has a redesigned cargo compartment, which allows four international standard 88”x108” pallets, or eight 88”x54” pallets, or three 96”x125” pallets to be carried inside. The cargo compartment is also fitted with modernised cargo handling system for fast loading/unloading.
The Y-8F200 is the commercial freighter version with further upgraded avionics and redesign cargo compartment. The cargo handling system and large flat ramp allow fast loading/unloading of cargo.
The Y-8F400 is the modernised freighter variant featuring upgraded avionics and a three-man flight crew replacing the original five-man crew. The original ‘glass-in’ nose was replaced by a solid nose. The cargo compartment of the Y-8F400 is equipped with an electric-powered overhead cargo system, which can hoist up to 1,000 kg of cargo. Rollers in the floor of the cargo compartment enable quick and easy handling of cargo pallets and can be removed to leave a flat surface if needed. The compartment is fully pressurised.
Y-8F600 / Y-8X / Y-9
The Y-8F600 is the latest development variant of the Y-8. The aircraft was developed under the assistance of Ukraine-based Antonov Aeronautical Scientific-Technical Complex (ASTC) and Pratt and Whitney Canada. The Y-8F600 airframe, referred to as “Category-III Platform”, was also used to provide an aerial platform for special role aircraft. The transport variant was later renamed Y-8X, and subsequently Y-9.