The world’s largest amphibian aircraft, the AG600 “Kunlong,” flew for the first time on December 24, taking off from Zhuhai Jinwan Airport at 9:40 a.m. local time. The flight lasted about an hour. Developed by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (Avic), the aircraft underwent a series of high-speed taxi tests days earlier.
The aircraft has a maximum takeoff weight of approximately 117,700 pounds (53.6 tonnes) and is about 11 percent larger than the Shinmaywa US-1A and more than twice the size of the Canadair CL-215. The Chinese media calls it one of the nation’s aviation industry’s “Big Three’’ independent large aircraft projects, along with the Y-20 military transport aircraft and the Comac C919 narrowbody airliner. More than 150 companies and 10 universities across 20 cities in China were involved in the project, with 98 percent of components and 95 percent of avionics developed and manufactured locally, Avic reported.
The AG600 test pilots have logged more than 2,000 hours on the Harbin SH-5, also a domestically developed seaplane, and have received three months of training in Canada. Sea trials will begin next summer, starting from a calmer inland lake.
Official sources cite the AG600 as suitable for responding to civic emergencies, such as forest fires and maritime emergencies. For firefighting duties, the aircraft can take in its maximum payload of 12 tonnes of water in 20 seconds and a single cast can cover up to 43,055 sq ft (4,000 sq m). Avic reports orders for 17 aircraft from a number of Chinese government agencies.
Chinese media revealed that the Chinese maritime rescue capabilities are lacking, with effectiveness dwindling 500 km seawards. The AG600 has a range of 2,430 nm (4,500 km), 12 hours' endurance, and capacity for 50 passengers and can conduct sea rescue at Sea State 3, with maximum wave height of two meters.
If militarized, the AG600 could mirror the SH-5 capabilities. The People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force could use it as a transport aircraft for areas that lack airfield infrastructure or modify it as an airborne early warning and antisubmarine platform, a capability currently lacking in its carrier air wing. Aircraft chief designer Huang Lingcai told CCTV that the “aircraft can make round trips from the southern island province of Hainan to James Shoal [in the South China Sea] without needing to refuel.”