The third prototype of the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter made its maiden flight successfully on Saturday 1st March. According to the witness report on Chinese social media, the J-20 prototype “2011” took the sky at about 12:00 local time, escorted by a Chengdu J-10S two-seater fighter. The entire flight lasted about 30 minutes before the aircraft landed safely.
The “2011” prototype was first spotted at the test airfield of the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAIC) preparing for its maiden flight in early 2014. A low-speed taxi test took place on 16 January, followed by a high-speed taxi test on 18 January.
The maiden flight of the first J-20 prototype “2001” in January 2011 took the Western intelligence completely by surprise. A second prototype “2002” then made its maiden flight in May 2012.
Compared with its two predecessors, the “2011” prototype features a number of modifications in its aerodynamic design and systems, with the most notable being a chin-mounted electro-optical targeting system (EOTS). Other modifications include new air intakes, redesigned nose section, differently shaped leading-edge extension, redesigned frame-strengthened canopy, different gear bays, and slightly different forward canard and tail fin tips. In addition, the aircraft also wears a new light-grey colour radar-absorbing coating.
The latest flight test suggests that rather than serving as a technology demonstrator, the J-20 may be on its way to become the world’s third operational 5th-generation fighter, after the Boeing F-22A Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II. However, before this can happen Chengdu engineers will need to overcome a number of technical obstacles, such as the lack of indigenous turbofan jet engine and credible avionics.