Thrust-vectoring J-10 Stars at Zhuhai

 - November 9, 2018, 3:15 AM
Aircraft 1034, the J-10 TVC demonstrator, performs extreme-agility maneuvers in the skies over Zhuhai. (photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

This year’s Air Show China (November 6-11), held at Zhuhai in southern Guangdong Province featured very few new combat aircraft developments or innovations. Most of the new military developments—such as the “flying-wing” bomber supposedly designated H-20 that has been developed by the Xi’an Aircraft Corporation (XAC)—were not seen or even allowed to be mentioned at this year’s event.

One of the new attractions is a Chengdu J-10B fighter with a thrust vectoring control (TVC) nozzle. The aircraft can perform a seemingly gravity-defying show routine, but the real benefit may be its signature reduction qualities. The adjustable cover plates on the exhaust nozzle—the so-called “turkey feathers”—are designed with sawtooth edges to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross section (RCS). TVC nozzles of this design have proven to significantly reduce both RCS and infrared signature.

The J-10 series was originally powered with a specialized variant of the same Russian-made Salyut AL-31F engine that powers all of the PLAAF’s Su-27 and Su-30 aircraft. This latest version seen at Zhuhai is equipped with a Chinese-made Woshan (WS)-10B3 engine that includes the TVC module.

The WS-10 is built by the Shenyang-based Liming Aero-engine Company, and itself is a derivative of the model used to power the Shenyang Aircraft Company’s (SAC) J-11B fighter aircraft, a reverse-engineered copy of the Russian Sukhoi Su-27. The TVC nozzle has reportedly been developed not just for this aircraft, but also as part of the new WS-15 engine program that is supposed to eventually power the PLAAF’s most well-known new-generation aircraft: the Chengdu J-20.

Coincidentally, in 1990 the IAI Lavi aircraft that is such a close analog to the J-10 was used as the baseline performance model for one of the first single-engine, axisymmetric vectoring nozzle design studies performed in the West. The computer-aided model was developed jointly by General Electric Aircraft Engines and IAI as a proposed retrofit for the Lockheed Martin F-16 but was not proceeded with.

Sukhoi eventually decided on TVC as the best solution for the performance requirements of the Su-35 and later deleted the canard foreplanes. Canards are seen by some aircraft designers as a mixed blessing, creating performance enhancements but at the expense of lost energy in any combat maneuvering. TVC is seen as having greater benefits in being able to reduce or deflect an IR signature, as well as offering long-term savings on maintenance.

TVC has been evaluated by several military aircraft engine producers, but not with the goal of producing impressive aerobatic flight display routines. Design teams for the Eurofighter’s EJ200 have analyzed a number of models that prove that TVC allows the pilot to run the engine at lower temperatures and achieve the same level of performance, which enhances the overall service life of the engine—a factor that most modern air forces are keen to focus on.