Transport & Tanker

Y-20A Eagle

A PLAAF Y-20A was demonstrating at the 2016 Zhuhai Airshow, wearing a dark blue paint scheme. 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 ~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-20A is capable of taking off from relatively short runways, making many 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. However so far no IFR probe was found onboard the aircraft. Other features include a four-crew glass cockpit with two HUDs and five 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. A dorsal SATCOM antenna is also seen behind the wings. The aircraft also features an FBW system. Overall Y-20A 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 ZBD-03 AFVs (at least 3) and one ZTZ99 MBT. In addition a stretched variant is thought to be under development with a larger cargo space. 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-20B?). A static test airframe was seen in December 2016 featuring modified engine pylons. Y-20A is also expected to be converted into a tanker replacing the obsolete H-6U (see below). It will also serve as the platform of the next generation AWACS (KJ-3000?) 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 of Y-20A 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. Additional prototypes were built and flew in 2015 including 785 and 788. The last prototype (789) flew for the first time on February 6, 2016. It was reported in September 2015 that a pulse assembly line has been established at XAC and was ready for production. The R&D of Y-20A was reportedly completed by the end of 2015. The first two Y-20A (S/N 11051 & 11052) were handed over to PLAAF at XAC on June 15, 2016. They were formally inducted to PLAAF on July 6, 2016. They were expected to be followed by 2 more (11053 & 11054?) by the end of 2016. Currently more Y-20As are being constructed at XAC. The latest image (June 2017) indicated at least 3 Y-20As are in service with PLAAF.
- Last Updated 6/24/17

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 9/17/16

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. However so far there has been no evidence that it can drop the ZBD-03 AFV. 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 10x5x, up to 16 are in service by mid-2016). Currently Y-9 is in 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 with inherent limitations in its design such as limited cargo bay space in terms of width and height as well as insufficient payload and range. An export version was first unveiled at the 2016 Zhuhai Airshow as Y-9E. It was rumored that both Thailand and Myanmar Air Force showed some interest. The first Y-9 entered the service with PLA Army Aviation (S/N LH940xx) on December on December 22, 2016. The latest news (May 2017) suggested that Y-30 project finally entered the initial development stage.
- Last Updated 5/31/17

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. Night refueling was practiced in a very small scale and did not become routine. 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, J-10/10S, and J-10B/C 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. As the result the mid-wing pylons for the YJ-6 AShM were removed.
- Last Updated 6/14/17

Il-78 Midas

A rarely seen PLAAF Il-78 tanker was photographed during landing. 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 flying long-range patrol missions over the East Pacific Ocean near Japan as well as the South China Sea. It was rumored that the 2nd Il-78 was delivered in July 2015. The latest satellite image (April 2017) suggested that the 3rd Il-78 has been delivered.
- Last Updated 6/25/17


A brand new Y-12D light utility STOL aircraft was being boarded by paratroopers at a PLAAF airbase in southeast China. The first Y-12D (S/N 6651) reportedly entered the service with the PLAAF 13th Division in early 2015 with the expectation to replace the old Y-5/An-2 biplane in support of the PLAAF 15th Airborne Corps. The aircraft first wore a distinctive bright blue/white camouflage, but was later repainted with a more stealthy dark blue/gray camouflage. Military VHF/UHF as well as IFF antennas were installed. Additional equipment could be installed in order to improve its survivability, such as FLIR, MAWS, RWR and chaff/flare launcher. Around 10 paratroopers can be carried at a time. More Y-12Ds have entered the service wearing a dark blue/light gray color scheme (S/N 665x, 675x). Y-12 is also being used to drop paratroopers by air forces of other countries such as Namibia and Kenya.
- Last Updated 3/21/17