China's New Stealth Fighter. Not a repeat from December 2010.


The U.S. defense secretary is on his way to Beijing. Time to unveil a new stealth fighter...

Short take-off and vertical landing has been one of the two driving requirements behind the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter design, the other being stealth.

STOVL dictated the single engine, and the STOVL solution chosen for the F-35 demands a big vertical bay behind the cockpit, and a main engine located unusually far forward, to keep the driveshaft length within reason and to put the lift-cruise nozzle in the right longitudinal location for balance.

This constrains the weapon-bay volume and shape, and effectively subdivides the bays into four zones -- two AAM bays and two heavy store sections. As Amy Butler reports in Aviation Week & Space Technology this week, too, the weapon bays, wrapped around the engine, get hot and noisy. 

If you ever wondered what a JSF might look without those constraints, we now have a live, physical example.

Unfortunately ...

... it's Chinese.

One of the photos of the new Shenyang stealth fighter, apparently designated J-31, that appeared on Chinese defense websites over the weekend is such a colossal gimme that it has to have been deliberate. Direct head-on shot? Check. Commercially available aircraft tug? Check. Extreme telephoto, so that perspective effects are lost in the noise? Check.

Sheesh, guys, can't you make it a challenge?

The J-31's wingspan is an F-35-like 37.5 feet, unless my Soviet-watching skills have deserted me. This makes it smaller than the Lockheed F-22 and considerably smaller than the Chengdu J-20. A good early guess is that the engines are Klimov RD-93s -- imported in large numbers for the JF-17 -- with a Chinese-built engine to follow.

Turning to the side view of the jet, it looks as if the engines are installed to the rear of the bulkhead that carries the main landing gear. And with no lift fan bay to worry about, the designers have been able to install long weapon bays on the centerline: what will be interesting is how the inlet ducts are routed to optimize internal space.

Overall, the most important point is that the J-31 does not look like a competitor for the J-20 -- but as a complement to it. Which, again, might point to the new fighter being a JSF to the J-20's F-22.

And if you wonder about the detail similarities of the shape to the F-22 and F-35, remember this quote from 2010:

In the past year (2009) alone, Lockheed Martin found “six to eight companies” among its subcontractors “had been totally compromised – emails, their networks, everything” according to Lockheed Martin chief information security officer Anne Mullins.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's Ares?

Aviation Week's defense blog

From The Archives

Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.


Aug 27, 2015

Aviation Week Lifts Veil On Boeing B-52 Bomber (1952) 16

In 1952, Aviation Week provided the first details on the new Boeing B-52 bomber....More
Aug 14, 2015

Bonanza Travel Pays 3

The legendary Beechcraft Bonanza has an impressive production record, so perhaps the marketers back in 1949 were onto something when they coined the phrase "Bonanza travel pays."...More
Aug 14, 2015

Venerable Boeing 727 Prototype To Fly Again 29

The most famous 727, the prototype aircraft which would join United as N7001U, was delivered to the airline in October 1964 having served its time as a Boeing test aircraft....More
Aug 13, 2015

Aviation Week And The Bomb

Aviation News did not predict how nuclear weapons would change the world. But neither did anyone else....More
Aug 13, 2015

Collins Radar Takes The Ups And Downs Out Of Flying

Turbulence? Rockwell Collins had a solution for those bumpy rides in the early 80s with its WXR-700 Doppler Weather Radar....More
Blog Archive
Penton Corporate

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×