Xi’an HY-6

Type: Aerial refuelling tanker
Designer: Xi’an Aircraft Design Institute (603 Institute)
Manufacturer: Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (XAC)
First flight: 23 December 1991
Introduction: 1996
Operators: PLA Air Force (HY-6), PLA Naval Air Force (HY-6D)
Crew: 4

The HY-6 (HY = Hong You, or Bomber-Tanker) is an aerial refuelling tanker aircraft developed by XAC based on the airframe of the H-6 (Tu-16) medium bomber. The PLA has been operating a small number of the HY-6 since the mid-1990s. The tanker can refuel the Shenyang J-8II and Chengdu J-10, but not the Sukhoi Su-30/35 ‘Flanker’ or Shenyang J-15/16 ‘Sino-Flanker’.

Development History

The PLA first obtained the aerial refuelling technology in the 1960s, when it recovered some refuelling equipment from the wreckages of U.S. tanker aircraft shot down over North Vietnam. Some preliminary research had been carried out but was suspended due to political reasons. The tanker aircraft programme was resumed in the early 1980s, when the PLA needed to expand the range of its air power to the remote South China Sea.

Initially two programmes were being run in parallel, one attempting to acquire refuelling equipment from abroad while the other focusing on indigenous development. In 1983, the Ministry of Aeronautics and the PLAAF jointly proposed the development of a tanker aircraft based on the Y-10 (Chinese copy of the Boeing 707) passenger jet, fitted with two British Mk32 refuelling pods. After the Y-10 programme was cancelled in 1985, the Ministry of Aeronautics sought to purchase the Boeing 707 aircraft directly from the United States to serve as the platform for its tanker aircraft. Thirty units of the Mk32 refuelling pod were ordered from Britain.1 However, all talks stopped after 1989 as a result of the arms embargo imposed by the United States and European Union.

The indigenous development of the tanker aircraft was included in China’s 7th Five-Year Plan in September 1981 and the task to develop the refuelling system was assigned to the PLAAF 1st and 8th Research Institute in August 1982. Key technical and tactical specifications of the tanker aircraft were published by the PLAAF Headquarters in December 1983. Based on the requirements, the aviation industry working with the military began to develop the relevant technologies, including the refuelling pod, TACAN aircraft navigation/rangefinder system, inertial navigation system (INS), weather radar, and refuelling probe.

In August 1988, the PLA General Staff Department (GSD) and the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND) issued the order to convert the Xi’an H-6A bomber into tanker aircraft, develop the indigenous refuelling pod, and adding refuelling probe to the Shenyang J-8II fighter aircraft.  The first bomber-converted H-6 tanker, designated HY-6, was completed in 1990. The development of the Chinese tanker aircraft also received assistance from British and Israeli consultants.2

The development of the in-flight refuelling technique was not smooth. After hundreds of failed refuelling attempts and dozens of accidents including broken refuelling probe, catching fire in mid-air, and radio malfunction, the successful aerial refuelling operation between a H-6 tanker and a J-8II fighter took place on 31 December 1991.2 The production variant HY-6 tanker, reportedly designated H-6U,3 entered PLAAF service in 1996, and was first unveiled to the public during the flypast of the October 1999 National Day military parade in Beijing.


Currently the PLAAF operates some 12 examples of the basic variant HY-6, which was based on newly-built airframes featuring a solid nose replacing the original glass-in nose of the bomber variant. The PLA naval Air Force operates a different variant, reported designated H-6DU,3 which may have been converted from existing H-6D naval missile bomber airframes. The DU variant can be distinguished by its glass-in nose and the large under-chin radome housing the fire-control radar.2

The HY-6 is equipped with two drogue-and-hose type refuelling pods carried under its wings, allowing refuelling two fighters simultaneously, and up to six fighters in one round. The aircraft is equipped with two sets of inertial navigation system (INS) (one for backup), two TAKAN systems for all-weather day/night mutual detection and approach from distances up to 200 km, and a weather radar accommodated inside the nose. The aircraft also has radio/light signal system for night refuelling operations. The electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite includes radar warning receivers (RWR) and chaff/flare dispensers.2

Powered by two Xi’an Aero-Engine WP-8 turbojets each rated at 93.2 kN (9,503 kgf, 20,952 lbf), the HY-6 has a maximum take-off weight of 75.8 t and can carry up to 37 t of aviation fuel inside its tanks, of which 18.5 t can be transferred to the fighter aircraft. The refuelling system consists of two RDC-1 refuelling pods developed by China Institute of Aero Accessories, based on the British Flight Refuelling Ltd. (FRL) Mk32 design. The two pods are mounted on pylons under each wing and a control panel in the operator’s station. Two fighter aircraft can be refuelled at the same time. The operator station is located inside the original tail gun turret on the H-6 bomber.2

Normal take-off weight (t): 72. Max take-off weight (t): 75.8. Fuel tank capacity (kg): up to 37,000. Fuels for transfer (t): 18.5. Max speed (km/h): 1,014. Cruising speed (km/h): 786. Service ceiling (m): 13,100 m.
Image Gallery
Air Force H-6U
Naval Air Force H-6DU
RDC-1 Refuelling Pod
  1. 新浪军事. 2014. 深度:解析我军空中加油系统. [ONLINE] Available at: http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2014-12-22/1440815802.html. [Accessed 18 August 2017]. []
  2. 人民网 (People’s Daily). 2015. 轰油-6空中加油机:空中加油站和力量倍增器. [ONLINE] Available at: http://military.people.com.cn/n/2015/0907/c1011-27552386.html. [Accessed 18 August 2017]. [] [] [] [] []
  3. The H-6U and H-6DU designations have never appeared in official PLA/Chinese writings [] []

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