Joined-Wing UAV Revealed in China

 - July 8, 2011, 6:22 AM
Chengdu’s latest surprise is this joined-wing UAV, seen outside the company’s facility in late June.

Photographs of a new Chinese UAV have been posted on Chinese websites. They show a joined-wing design that was previously shown in model form at the Zhuhai airshow.

In what appears to be a staged leak from the 611 Aircraft Design Institute at Chengdu, similar to that which revealed the institute’s J-20 fighter to the world, the photos reveal a large UAV powered by a single rear-mounted turbofan, possibly a non-afterburning WS-13, exhausting through a near-triangular nozzle. The swept-back forward wing is joined by a vertical section to a forward-swept rear wing, which is set higher so as to be clear of its downwash.

The photos also show the UAV mounted on posts that have been surrounded by what appear to be radar-absorbing cones, suggesting that the vehicle was undergoing a radar cross section or sensor test. Some analysts have suggested that the vehicle is only a mock-up, although it seems to have an air-data-system probe and inlets.

With a suggested operating ceiling of more than 60,000 feet, the new UAV is intended for surveillance, and there is speculation in the U.S. that it is designed for use as a targeting platform to serve China’s anti-ship, ballistic-missile capability that poses such a threat to U.S. Navy carrier battle groups.

Chengdu has already designed another large UAV in the form of the Xianglong (Soaring Dragon), which was first revealed in model form at the 2006 Zhuhai show and which first flew in late 2009. This vehicle is more akin to the RQ-4 Global Hawk, with slender low-mounted wing and a V-tail.