Airshow China 2018
I am back from Airshow China 2018. The event took place from November 6th to 11th. It was the 12th airshow being organized at Zhuhai Sanzao airport by chinese government.
Back from 2016's event, I could witness all improvements organised then with new display halls having been built exclusively for the event . Let's say this was a real pleasure for me to go back to this unique place to witness the state of the art of chinese air & space technologies. China is growing fast though AVIC still experiences drawbacks with jet engines such as the WS-10 and WS-15. But patience and time do really pay with chinese engineers.
Second task to fulfill when travelling is having pleasure to meet unknown things. As it was still an adventure for me to be it ready on the photographers famous spots on top of an hotel roof, situated south of the airfield. Mainly it is fun when you have to venture there at 4.00 AM from your hotel with a taxi driver who does not understand english as much as you expected.
Interestingly enough, it was the first event at Zhuhai having taken place since the Hong Kong - Zhuhai - Macao Bridge was opened. It is the longest sea crossing bridge + tunnel system ever built in the world. It is 55 km long, but having flown from Paris to HK, I found it more convenient to use the usual Chu Kuong Passenger Ferry travelling from HK airport going straight to Zhuhai, instead of experimenting that new trip. Once you sail from the airport, it is always amazing to discover Zhuhai city from the sea, suddenly emerging from the fog, 15 minutes before your Ferry joins Zhuhai Jiu Zhu port.
The airshow was even more amazing than it was last time in 2016. As advertised a few weeks before the show, it was People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) first ever real flying display. From 2012, visitors were treated with a show without any chinese forces combat assets flying in the display, apart from famous « Ba Yi » national team flying six J-10 AYs. Of course it was a pleasure to see « Ba yi » once more even since is was less than a week after Airshow China 2016 had ended, that lady pilot Yu Xu was sadly lost in an accident as she ejected from her J-10 backseat north of Tianjin.
for the first time ever in chinese aviation history, three Chengdu J-20s 5th Gen. stealthy fighter aircraft, suddenly appeared on Nov. 6th 2018, over Zhuhai, only after « Ba Yi » and Red Falcons routine were over. Nov. 6th was the official inauguration day. All in all, these J-20s achieved a 10 minutes display. Firstly, two of them performed formation flying and a sort of very limited combat routine, and once they had fled from the area, the third J-20 came back and flew a short solo routine proving observers that this heavy stealth jet had more than a few tight maneuvering skills. I reported on the J-20 fist real public display, in a french magazine here : https://www.aerobuzz.fr/defense/les-chasseurs-chinois-j-20-dans-le-ciel-de-zhuhai/. Apparently these J-20s were (at last !) powered by indigenous WS-10 engine instead of the AL-41FNs. And on Sunday, all J-20s flew with weapon bays opened, showing PL-15s and PL-20s missiles.
Strangely enough, AVIC FC-31 stealth competitor - that used to be on display back in 2014 - made a « no show » this year, apart from a full scale model. Renamed as « Gyrfalcon » in 2016, the FC-31 absence remain a mystery. Generally speaking, I found it was quite an adventure to gather any information from any type of equipment from AVIC or CATIC representatives at the show.
Airshow China 2018 , was first ever display by a chinese built Chengdu J-10 B performing with a AVIC designed thrust vectoring system. The equipment enabled this prototype to fly with huge energy and hypermaneuvrability skills that were quite similar to that of the MiG-29 OVT’s. And it pulled up to 90° to show a « cobra », and did it even more smoothly than heavy russian jets. This prototype first flew on 25th Dec. 2017, but no one could imagine the level of performances it could really achieve. Many observers minimized this proto abilities in flight on Twitter, just a week before it fully displayed in the blue sky, but apparently, when came the inauguration day, they had a huge surprise.
Also performing, was the Y-20 strategic airlift airplane. This perfect copy of Lockheed-Martin C-17, performed all kinds of things that you would expect to see from a Globemaster. Strangely looking, was the Chengdu FTC-2000 G flying a routine to show that its capabilities are well extended from a Mach 2 lead-in-fighter trainer, to a light bomber intended for asian and african markets. Last but not least with chinese airplanes on show, three COMAC ARJ21-700s flew as well. They were bearing colors from the first three airlines flying them. More than 450 could well be delivered to the chinese market (alone) within the next ten years.
Interestingly, indigenous UAVs were on the tarmac such as the 4.000 km range capable Wing Loong I & II long range items. Wing Loong was delivered to many countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, and even Egyptian forces that used it to strike terrorists. Noticeable even six of the kind were ordered by Serbia in 2018 ! A more strange and stealthy Cloud Shadow was exhibited with its weapons. Also exhibited in the static display were a PLAAF J-10 B, a JH-7A Flying Leopard, a Y-9, and a H-6K strategic bomber to name but a few. State-of-the-art « AWACS » KJ-500 contrasted with a Nachang Q-5 on the ground a few meters away ! Pakistan Air Force attended the event to display three PAC JF-17 Thunders. They confessed that Q-5s are no longer in service with the PAF. So this rather looked like a chinese air force warbird attraction.
Pakistan Phoenix squadron did its best to fly a JF-17 « solo » starting with a dramatic take off. To tell the truth, JF-17 Thunder was the first chinese 4th Gen. jet fighter a/c ever displayed at Zhuhai, years before the first PLAAF jets, « Ba Yi » team’s J-10 AYS, flew publicly in 2010. More than 100 JF-17 Block Is and IIs are operational with the PAF. Block IIIs will be ops. from 2021. Twin seats FC-1B was delivered to the PAF this year. Two more will be delivered by CATIC. Further FC-1Bs will be assembled in Pakistan. This two-seat variant was featured in AVIC hall. Two AVIC Z-10 MEs combat helicopters were on the show ground. One was even flanked by a C-802 huge anti-ship missile ! Once more, I was told by Z-10 representative, that any information about the PLAAF Z-10 variant was « secret », with a superb smile.
Russian aircraft suddenly disappeared from the show this year. Let's remind everyone that Russian Air Force achieved a dramatic show with the « Kubinka Nine » flying over Zhuhai, last time in 2016 : http://www.sky-lens.com/articles-airshows-asia.php?recordID=145 .But this year, Rosboronexport found it more valuable as commercial and political prospects are concerned, to send the Russian Knights to Bahrain International Airshow which happened to take place one week after Zhuhai.