The Defense Ministry of the People’s Republic of China would like to wish you a happy new year – and welcome you into a new era. China’s first known stealth aircraft (maybe) appeared across the Web over the past week or so in a series of pictures depicting what appear to be high-speed taxi tests at Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute’s airfield. Reportedly known as the J-20, the emergence of the alleged long-range single-seater suggests China is ahead of schedule in its plans for a revamped air force and could have a stealth plane in the sky by 2017, three years earlier than expected.
So what do we know about the J-20 from these pics? For one, it’s big and it’s long, suggesting it can carry heavy weapons loads and lots of fuel for long-range missions (it also suggests it likely won’t be launching from the aircraft carriers China also reportedly is developing). Comparison to vehicles on the ground shows the J-20 to be some 75 feet long with a 45-foot wingspan – bigger than the F-22. It also has a higher ground clearance than the F-22, suggesting it can load larger munitions like air-to-surface weapons.
The real question, it seems, is whether the J-20 pictured here is a proper prototype or a technology demonstrator. We’ll find out when China either does or doesn’t roll out further J-20s for flight tests. Or when China drops another hint to the world via “secret information” leaked all over the Web.