China’s indigenously designed and built Jiaolong (Water Dragon) AG600 seaplane — believed to be the world’s largest amphibious aircraft — will be ready for delivery to customers by 2022, Xinhua news agency reported on May 13 citing the plane’s manufacturer.
“We are endeavoring to get the airworthiness certification from the civil aviation authorities by 2021 and deliver it [the aircraft] to the customers by 2022,” Xinhua quoted Huang Lingcai, the AG600’s chief designer at Chinese state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), as saying.
The AG600 took to the skies for the first time in December 2017. The aircraft took off from a runway at Jinwan airport in Zhuhai, Guangdong, China. The flight lasted for about an hour. Earlier that month, the seaplane had passed the official technical quality assessment, one of the last major hurdles to overcome before its scheduled maiden flight.
Huang noted that the AG600 will be making more flights in 2018, including its first takeoff in water.
The AG600 is about the same size as a Boeing 737 and measures 37 meters in length and has a wingspan of 38.8 meters. 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. The maximum operational range without refueling reportedly is about 4,500 kilometers.
According to Huang, the AG600 aircraft can make round trips without refueling from the southern island province of Hainan to James Shoal, a disputed small bank in the South China Sea administered by Malaysia but claimed by China as its southernmost territory.
The AG600, based on information provided by AVIC, can collect up to 12 tons of water in 20 seconds, and can carry a total of 370 tons of water in a single run. The aircraft’s primary missions will include marine search and rescue operations and aerial firefighting.
However, the aircraft reportedly can also be deployed for military operations including transporting military personnel and supplies to remote military outposts in the South China Sea.
“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 noted previously.
Furthermore, I explained:
In addition, the AG600 can be used for long-range patrols, anti-submarine warfare and mine-laying missions. However, a number of Chinese naval experts have been skeptical about the aircraft’s military utility noting that the aircraft has a number of operational limitations and may not be cost effective.
China has far ordered 17 AG600 for domestic use, but is expected to order over 50 additional aircraft in the near future. As of now, AVIC has not received an export order from a foreign customer, although a couple of countries have reportedly been interested in acquiring the seaplane.