China’s indigenously designed and built Kunlong (Water Dragon) AG600 seaplane has successfully conducted high-speed water taxiing trials on the Zhanghe reservoir near Jingmen city in the country’s Hubei province on October 1, according to local media reports.
The recently completed successful taxiing trials are an indication that the AG600 is inching closer to its first take-off and landing on water. In August, the AG600 made a ground training flight from an airport in the city of Zhuhai in south China’s Guangdong Province, to an airport in Jingmen, a city in central China’s Hubei Province. The aircraft made its maiden flight, which was broadcast live on Chinese television, from land at Jinwan airport in Zhuhai, Guangdong, China in December 2017.
The Boeing 737-sized AG600 plane—thought to be the world’s largest amphibious aircraft—was rolled out at an Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) plant in the southern city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province in July 2016, following five years of development. (The construction of the prototype began in 2014.)Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The AG600, powered by four WJ-6 turboprop engines, is 37 meters long and has a wingspan of 38.8 meters. It can carry 50 people and can stay airborne for up to 12 hours. The plane’s maximum take-off weight is 53.5 tons, its maximum cruising speed 500 kilometers per hour, and the maximum operational range without refueling about 4,500 kilometers, according to AVIC. As I explained in December 2017:
The AG600s principal missions will be marine search and rescue operations and aerial firefighting. The seaplane can also be used for military operations to support Chinese maritime defense needs including transporting supplies and military personnel to Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea (See: “Will this Plane Let China Control 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. (…)
Notably, while the AG600 could be used for long-range patrols, anti-submarine warfare, and mine-laying missions, senior Chinese PLA officers have questioned the utility of the aircraft for military operations. Yet, as I noted last year:
[A]ccording to the AG600s chief designer, the 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.
This would make it an ideal aircraft for the People’s Liberation Army-Navy in the South China Sea.
The certification process, which evaluates the airworthiness of the AG600, is expected to be concluded by 2021 with deliveries commencing in 2022. While no international customer has come forward to date, the Chinese government has placed an order for an initial batch of 17 aircraft.