ZHUHAI, China—Three significant Chinese pilotless aircraft are appearing for the first time at Airshow China, including two jets.                                                                       

Avic is presenting its new Cloud Shadow jet and a greatly expanded development of its Wing Loong propeller-driven series at the show, while China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) is displaying the CH-5, a jet-propelled follow-on to its established CH-4.

All three new types have been appeared in the form of aircraft parked on the apron at the site of the Nov. 1-6 show, not merely models in the exhibition hall.

There was no indication of whether any of the types was in or destined for service with the Chinese air force. The air force has bought earlier Wing Loongs; Avic and CASC could easily have developed the new aircraft in hope of exports and maybe persuading the air force to buy.

The three new types have common features of pilotless aircraft designed for medium altitude and long endurance: a V tail, a radome for a satellite dish in the upper fuselage near the nose, and an electro-optical sensor ball on the underside forward. CASC also shows a model of a drone shaped somewhat like a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber.

Cloud Shadow appears to have a span of around 20 meters (66 ft.), like the General Atomics Avenger used by the U.S. Air Force, though the Chinese aircraft is less bulky and is probably lighter. The wing is swept slightly.

The Cloud Shadow on display at Zhuhai appears with an array of bombs and air-to-surface missiles. The wing has four hard points, but each of the inner pair carries two weapons side-by-side. Apart from the sensor ball, the aircraft carries another camera in its nose.

Its dorsal inlet will prevent most radar transmissions from directly reaching the engine face, which would otherwise reflect them strongly, but the airframe lacks the precise detail construction needed for a stealth aircraft. By contrast, the Avenger is designed for low radar reflections.

Cloud Shadow is reportedly a product of the Chengdu Aircraft unit of Avic’s defense subsidiary, Avic Aviation Techniques. The Wing Loong series also comes from Chengdu.

Wing Loong 2 is perhaps twice as big as Wing Loong 1 and obviously has a completely new design. The fitting of a much larger propeller indicates that the aircraft has a more powerful engine, befitting its size. The inlet for that turboprop engine is no longer in the ventral position used in Wing Loong 1.

The wing appears to have more than 10 deg. of sweep on the leading edge. It also features tip fences. The V tail surfaces are large and supplemented by a deep ventral fin. Wing Loong 2 has six hard points; its predecessor had two.

The fuselage features a chine, used to control radar reflections, but the fabrication and assembly indicate a non-stealthy aircraft.
CASC’s CH-5 jet has similar shaping and construction standards. With a completely new design, it follows a series of CASC propeller aircraft with the designation CH. The new type has six hard points, up from four on CH-4.

The Chinese name of the Wing Loong series is Yi Long, meaning “wing dragon.” CH is an abbreviation for Caihong, meaning “rainbow.”