Transport & Tanker

Y-20 Roc

The Y-20 #783 prototype just arrived at the airport to attend the 2014 Zhuhai Airshow. This advanced 4-engine large transport has been under development since early 2000s at 603 Institute, XAC, CAC and SAC which appears similar to American C-17 and based upon some IL-76MD technology (see below). The development was accelerated after the large earthquake in 2008 in Sichuan Province. Assistance was sought from Antonov Design Bureau in 2008. Some specifications: range >7,800m, max speed 700km/h, service ceiling 13,000m, max payload 50~66t, max TO weight 180~200t, depending on the exact type of engine powering the aircraft. Fitted with high-lifting devices along the wing leading and trailing edges plus six pairs of main landing wheels, Y-20 is capable of taking off from relatively short and unpaved runways, making many unpaved airfields behind the battlefield accessible. Like C-17, it may also feature supercritical wings which give the aircraft a better fuel economy thus further extends its range. Currently it is unclear whether the aircraft will feature an IFR probe. Other features include a four-crew glass cockpit with two HUDs and four large MFDs. A small FLIR (Enhanced Vision System/EVS) is installed below the forward windshield to assist taking off and landing under poor weather conditions. and the Overall Y-20 appears fatter and shorter than Il-76MD, bearing some resemblance to Japanese C-2 and Ukrainian An-70 transport. This suggests that its cargo bay dimension is a wider and taller, making it more versatile by being able to to carry a variety of oversize load, including a ZTZ99 MBT. The prototypes and the initial batch are powered by Russian D-30KP-2/WS-18 turbofan, later by the modified WS-10 (WS-20 Huanghe?) high-bypass turbofan (as Y-20A?). Y-20 is also expected to be converted into a tanker replacing the obsolete H-6U (see below). It may also serve as the platform of the next generation AWACS replacing KJ-2000. It was also rumored that the aircraft might serve as the testbed for the Chinese airborne laser weapon prototype similar to American YAL-1. The head section of a full-scale metal mock-up was constructed by 2008. On August 20, 2009 SAC started to build the rear fuselage of the first prototype. It was reported in April 2010 that the full-scale mock-up was completed in early 2010. In January 2012 it was rumored that the airframe of the first prototype has been constructed, to be fitted with the avionics and engines. Three prototypes (001 - 003) were constructed by 2013, with the 002 prototype being the static test airframe. The first low speed taxiing of prototype 20001 took place on December 21, 2012 at the CFTE airfield in Yanliang. The first flight took place on January 26, 2013. The 001 prototype (S/N 781) later wears a dark blue color scheme after being transferred to CFTE. The third prototype (S/N 783) made its maiden flight on December 16, 2013 and has been undergoing various tests at different locations. It was rumored that the 4th prototype (784?) rolled down the assembly line on February 25, 2014 but this was confirmed. Additional prototypes were built and flew in 2015 including 785 and 788. It was reported in September 2015 that a pulse assembly line has been established at XAC and was ready for production. It was rumored in December 2015 that the aircraft was evaluated by the PLAAF 4th Division. The R&D of Y-20 was reportedly completed by the end of 2015 and the aircraft is expected to enter the service with PLAAF (11x5x?) as early as 2016. It was reported that a new prototype (789) flew for the first time on February 6, 2016.
- Last Updated 5/29/16

IL-76MD/TD Candid

A PLAAF Il-76MD transport aircraft was preparing for landing. In an effort to modernize its small and aging transport fleet (mainly Y-7/An-26 and Y-8/An-12), PLAAF (via CAAC) purchased at least 14 Il-76MD transport aircraft (max load 48t, normal range 5,000km) from Russia and Uzbekistan in the early 90s in two batches. They appear to be the unarmed TD model with the tailgun and other military electronic equipment removed. Once operated by China United Airline (B-403x-404x), the fleet is now flown directly by PLAAF 13th Division (S/N 21x4x, 20x4x). These Il-76MDs have been closely supporting the PLAAF's 15th Airborne Corps in many military exercises, where they drop not only paratroopers, but also heavy equipment including up to 3 ZBD-03 AFVs. This can be viewed as a major boost to PLA's rapid reacting and long-range airlifting capability, even though the total number is still too small to change the overall situation. Four were later converted to KJ-2000 AWACS. The Il-76MD fleet is expected to be replaced by the indigenous Y-20 (see above) in the future. It was reported in September 2005 that China signed a contract for additional 34 Il-76MDs with Russia, but contract was aborted due to the bankruptcy of the manufacturer. After that setback as well as the delay of Y-20, in December 2011 China ordered 3 secondhand Il-76s from Russia instead of waiting for the newly constructed airframes. All were delivered in 2012. Images released in August 2012 indicated PLAAF is operating at least one Il-76TD (S/N 21141) which should be a refurbished secondhand transport from ex-USSR. Currently China is still receiving a total of 10 ex-USSR Il-76MD/TDs after being overhauled by Russia as a stop-gap measure until Y-20 enters the service.
- Last Updated 10/6/15


A brand-new PLAAF Y-9 transport was landing. This design was first unveiled at the 11th Beijing Airshow in September 2005 as the next generation medium transport aircraft to replace the obsolete Y-8/An-12. It appears to have superseded the earlier Y-8-X project. The aircraft features a stretched cargo bay which can quickly load/unload a maximum of 20t containerized cargo, or airdrop 13.2t equipment or 98 paratroopers. It has a four-crew glass cockpit featuring 6 color MFDs and EFIS. The aircraft is equipped with advanced communication, navigation, radar, EGWPS, collision avoidance systems to ensure safe flight under all weather conditions. Based on Y-8 "Category III Platform", Y-9 is powered by 4 WJ-6C turboprops (rated @ 5,100ehp each) with JL-4 6-blade high efficiency propellers made of composite materials, which improve its high temperature and high altitude performance. It also has solid nose and tail cone housing a weather radar and additional electronic equipment (including RWR antennas). An EO turret (containing FLIR/TV) is mounted underneath the nose for all weather/low altitude operation. Its horizontal tailplanes have additional samll vertial stabilizers installed as well to improved its stability at low speed. Some specifications: max TO weight 65t, max payload 20t or 106 paratroopers, 15t payload range 2,200km, max range 5,000km, max level speed 650km/h, cruise speed 550km/h, service ceiling 10,100m, cruise altitude 8,000m. The development of Y-9 started officially in October 2005 and the construction of the first prototype (tail and head sections) started in 2006. However the project appeared to have been halted in 2007 due to shifting the production to the high priority High New series as well as the Y-8C transport aircraft. The development resumed in late 2008 after the two years of delay and the first prototype was believed to have made its maiden flight on November 5, 2010. One Y-9 prototype (#741) was tested at CFTE. The first Y-9 entered the service with PLAAF in 2012 (S/N 1005x, up to 10 are in service by the end of 2015). Currently Y-9 is in limited production at SAC. At the 2014 Zhuhai Airshow a "New Medium Transport" design was unveiled by SAC as Y-30. This design with a cargo capacity of approximately 30t resembles European A-400M but appears smaller due to a less powerful engine (~5,000kw, WJ-10?). It might also borrow some technologies developed for the larger Y-20. The emergence of Y-30 suggested that Y-9 could be an interim product and won't be produced in large quantities as a military transport, instead it will be produced mainly as the platform for various High New series special mission aircraft.
- Last Updated 11/11/15

H-6U/DU Badger

As the first generation tanker operated by PLAAF, H-6U (K/JHU6?) was developed by Xian Aircraft Corporation in the early 90s based on H-6/Tu-16 bomber in order to support J-8D to gain air-superiority over South China Sea after clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese naval forces in the Spratlys in 1988 (Project 8911). The aircraft carries two underwing hose-and-drogue RDC-1 refueling pods and could refuel two J-8Ds simultaneously (a maximum of 6 J-8Ds can be refueled in one sortie). Additional signal and illumination lights are installed beneath the pod as well as on the fuselage for night refueling. The operator is stationed in the tail gunner compartment. The aircraft features a solid nose housing a weather radar. New navigational (including INS, GPS & TACAN), EW (RWR & chaff/flare dispenser) and flight control systems were also installed. Mock refueling at night was practiced in 2010. However it appears the refueling system is not NVG compatible. Two large fuel tanks have occupied the original internal bomb bay. However, compared to KC-135, H-6U's internal fuel capacity is fairly limited due to its original design as a medium-range bomber, and its loiter time is much shorter due to the high fuel consumption rate of two WP-8 turbojets. Its maximum fuel capacity is 34t, out of which 18.5t is available for refueling, but that number drops down to 10t at the maximum 2,200km radius, which is only enough to refuel two J-8Ds. Nevertheless since it can cruise at a higher speed, it was chosen instead of Y-8/An-12 as the tanker to support J-8D. H-6U first flew in 1990 and the first in-flight refueling occurred in 1992 with modified J-8B. About two dozen H-6Us (S/N 10x9x) are in service with PLAAF. They are stationed in Southeast China facing Taiwan as well as South China Sea. Currently H-6U supports PLAAF J-8H/F, JC-8F and J-10/10S fleet. However its refueling system is incompatible with Su-30MKK imported from Russia or the indigenous J-15 or J-16. The Navy also had a few of its H-6D (S/N 81x2x, 82x3x, 81x1x) maritime bombers converted into the tanker role (H-6DU) in order to support its own J-8H/F, JC-8F and J-10 fleet.
- Last Updated 4/2/16

Il-78 Midas

An unmarked Il-78 tanker was test flying over Ukraine in March 2014, wearing the distinctive blue top and white bottom color scheme of PLAAF. It was first reported in 2005 that China signed a $1.5b contract with Russia for the delivery of 34 new Il-76MD transport aircraft and four Il-78 tankers. This contract was never fulfilled due to the bankruptcy of Tashkent Aviation Production Association in Uzbekistan, which should have manufactured the jets. Consequently the PLAAF's Su-30MKK fleet had been flying without the IFR capability since it entered the service in 2000. Eventually it was reported that China signed a contract with Ukraine in 2011 for three refurbished ex-USSR Il-78s. The first of three Il-78 tankers refurbished by the Nikolaev Aircraft Repair Plant flew in March 2014. It was originated from an ex-Ukrainian AF Il-78. The tanker carries three UPAZ-1A refueling pods and its fuel capacity is around 60t. Its range is 7,300km and max speed is 850km/h. These tankers are expected to support the PLAAF J-11D, Su-30MKK and J-16 fleet. Satellite images taken in October 2014 indicated that the first Il-78 was delivered to the PLAAF 13th Division (S/N 2064x?). Since then it has been seen supporting the Su-30MKK fleet. It was rumored that the 2nd Il-78 was delivered in July 2015. The latest image (April 2016) suggested that the 3rd Il-78 has been refurbished in Ukraine and is preparing for delivery.
- Last Updated 4/11/16


A brand new Y-12IV light utility STOL aircraft was taking off from a PLAAF airbase in southeast China. The aircraft features a distinctive marine blue camouflage, suggesting it could be used to drop special forces onto the disputed islands in the East or South China Sea. Additional equipment can be installed in order to improve its survivability, such as FLIR, MAWS, RWR and chaff/flare launcher. At least one Y-12IV was reportedly in service with the PLAAF 13th Division in early 2015 (S/N 600x?). It could have been acquired to replace the old Y-5/An-2 biplane in support of the PLAAF 15th Airborne Corps. Additional Y-12IVs are being produced wearing a dark blue color scheme. Y-12 is also being used to drop paratroopers by air forces of other countries such as Namibia.
- Last Updated 12/6/15