China’s massive Jiaolong (Water Dragon) AG600 seaplane–allegedly the world’s largest amphibious aircraft—has completed a taxiing test on April 29 in preparation for its maiden flight this month, according to Chinese state media.
The successful glide test was conducted in the Southern Chinese city of Zhuhai. Other tests and check-ups are under way, Xinhua news agency reports, citing the plane’s manufacturer, state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
The aircraft is slated for its maiden flight on land in May followed by a flight on water in the second half of 2017. So far, AVIC has received orders to produce 17 aircraft, Xinhua news agency said. The company is expecting additional orders by the Chinese government for up to 53 additional planes in the coming years.
A number of foreign customers have purportedly also expressed interest in the aircraft.
The AG600 aircraft is 37 meters long and has wingspan of 38.8 meters. It is about the size of a Boeing 737. Powered by four turboprop WJ-6 engines, the aircraft’s maximum take-off weight is 53.5 tons, its maximum cruising speed 500 kilometers per hour, and the maximum operational range without refueling 4,500 kilometers.
“It is a ship which can fly and also an aircraft which can swim,” Huang Lingcai, chief designer of the AG600 and AVIC deputy general engineer, was quoted as saying in the Xinhua report. “The aircraft is the latest breakthrough in China’s aviation industry and fills a gap in China’s capability to produce large amphibious planes.”
The aircraft’s primary mission will be marine rescue and fighting forest fires, according to AVIC.
The AG600 aircraft could also be used for a host of military operations including long-range patrols, anti-submarine warfare tasks, and mine-laying missions.
“[T]he aircraft can be used to transport supplies and military personnel to Chinese controlled islands in the South China Sea (See: “Will This Plane Let China Control the South China Sea?”),” I explained elsewhere.
“Assuming, as claimed by the plane’s developers, that the AG600 only requires a water depth of 2.5 meters for landing and take-off, it would be an ideal aircraft to supply some of China’s artificial features in the Spratly Islands given that they are surrounded by shallow waters,” I explained.
“China is reportedly also interested in building a tourist variant of the aircraft to shuffle Chinese tourists from the mainland back and forth as part of Beijing’s plan to transform some of the Chinese-held islands into tourist destinations,” I wrote in March.
The AG600 seaplane project was launched with the support of 70 aircraft component manufacturers as well as around 150 research institutes across China in 2009. The aircraft’s prototype was first rolled off the production line at an AVIC plant in Zhuhai in July 2016.