China’s carrier-based FC-31 Stealth Fighter Makes First Flight

China's carrier-based FC-31 Stealth Fighter Makes First Flight
The first images of the carrier-borne FC-31 variant. (Image credit: Weibo via @Rupprecht_A)

China’s next-generation aircraft carrier-based FC-31 Stealth fighter jet made its maiden flight recently, with unverified photos of the prototype warplane in the sky circulating on social media platforms.

Two new variants of China’s stealth fighters have broken cover in the past three days. On Oct. 27, 2021, we reported the Photos and videos that give the world the first glimpse of the long-rumored twin-seat variant of China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet circulated on social media.

Now photos surfaced of what appears to be China’s FC-31 stealthy carrier-borne fighter taking to the air for the first time.

The photos, taken while the aircraft was in flight, show the catapult launch bar on the nose landing gear and what appears to hinge on the wings that allow them to be folded, a typical feature of carrier-based aircraft to allow the limited space on the flight deck and hangars to be maximized.

Developed based on the FC-31, the aircraft carrier-version is almost a new aircraft, with many of the latest technologies applied, said experts and analysts. They declined to confirm the authenticity of the photos but said they are generally in line with predictions.

China also unveiled the carrier-borne Xian KJ-600 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft, Beijing’s Hawkeye. Both the J-35 and the KJ-600 will operate from the new Type-003 aircraft carrier of the PLAN. KJ-600 is the Chinese analogue to the U.S. Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, and it looks remarkably similar.

China's carrier-based FC-31 Stealth Fighter Makes First Flight
The KJ-600 reportedly performed a test flight at Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation airfield in Xi’an on October 29.

The mock-up appeared on the deck of the concrete carrier in 2017. The prototype first flew in August or September 2020. While the real thing is not identical to the mock-up, it is very close.

The PLAN now has two of the STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) aircraft carriers in service. Those use a ski-jump to launch the aircraft. China is currently building a third carrier near Shanghai: The Type-003 will be massive. It is roughly comparable to the U.S. Navy’s Ford-class. This will be a CATOBAR (catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery) design. Thanks to its three EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch system) catapults, it will be able to launch the new aircraft spotted in flight today.

The official designation of China’s new twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft is not known yet. Most open sources call it “J-35” or “J-XY), some even call it a variant of the FC-31. A full-size model of the stealth plane first appeared in June this year at a land-based testing facility: A full-sized mock-up of a real Chinese Navy aircraft carrier, located at Wuhan. Naval News‘ regular contributor H I Sutton covered at length the development at the time, pointing out the similarities between the aircraft and the FC-31.

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