Production of China’s New Airlifter Confirmed

 - March 14, 2017, 5:13 AM
An early-build Y-20 airliner powered by Russian D-30KP2 turbofans. (Chinese internet)

China has confirmed series production of the Xian Y-20 "Kunpeng" strategic airlifter and a re-engining with domestically produced turbofans. Chinese state television announced the news at the same time as the go-ahead for production of the Y-20 stealth fighter was revealed.

Speaking to the Chinese media on the sidelines of the recent Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Y-20 design chief Tang Chang Hong said that after eight months of operational trials, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is pleased with the airlifter. Tang revealed that a timetable is in place to install domestic engines for the Y-20 by next year or 2019. Currently the aircraft is powered by four Russian Soloviev D-30KP2 turbofans, producing 10.5 tonnes of thrust.

Chinese-made Shenyang-Liming WS-20 engines will produce 14 metric tons (30,864 lbs) of thrust, and thereby enable the Y-20 to achieve its maximum payload of 66 metric tons (146 lbs). Touted as China’s most powerful engine, the WS-20 has been flight-tested on an IL-76 testbed since 2014.

China Aviation News reported in 2016 that Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation has the capacity to produce more than 20 Y-20 annually. However, the production line is not meeting its full potential this year due to the limited number of D-30 deliveries and the uncertainty of the WS-20 re-engining program.

“The successful development of the Y-20 is a testament to Chinese industry's ability to produce large scale, high-end equipment and the mastery of technology by the Chinese scientist and researchers.” Tang said. “The Y-20 is a good starting point and will enable us to produce larger and more ‘important’ aircraft projects.” He also noted that a civilian variant of the Y-20 will be developed.

The Chinese media revealed in early March that the Y-20 could be used as a carrier for China’s air-launched rocket system. The head of the  China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, Li Tong Yu, said his agency has developed a new generation of air-launched space vehicle capable of delivering 100 kg (220 lbs) of payload into low-orbit. The Y-20 will be used to air-launch the rocket. A variant with a payload up to 200 kg (440 lbs) is under development.

Li highlighted that China in recent years has been developing numerous small satellites.  Deploying them via conventional rockets would be costly, and the Y-20 will aim to solve that problem.