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Y-20 Kunpeng / Y-XX Grand Canal

Xinhua reported 28 December 2012 that China is developing Y-20 large transport aircraft to meet its military modernization drive, a Ministry of Defense spokesman said 27 December 2012. "We are developing large transport aircraft on our own to improve the capability of air transport," spokesman Yang Yujun said at a monthly news briefing held days after photos of a Y-20 appeared online. "The advanced long-range carrier is being developed to serve the military modernization drive, as well as to meet demands in disaster relief work and humanitarian aid in emergency situations, he added. The spokesman did not say when the Y-20s will be fitted out in force, only saying "the research and development of the large transport aircraft is going forward as planned." There will be a series of steps before the carriers are fitted out, "as the technology is complicated," he added.

Some called it 'Y-XX', others went out on a limb with 'Y-13' [which seems to have been applied to the Il-76], while after the debut of the J-20 stealth fighter the Y20 designation drew attention. China seems pretty excited about its chances in the world market. "China's jumbo aircraft will initially target the domestic market. But the ultimate aim is to compete with Boeing and Airbus on the international market," said Jin Qiansheng, deputy director of the administrative committee of Xi'an Yanliang State Aviation High-tech Industry Base. According to Xinhua, China considers an aircraft to be in the "jumbo" category if it can carry 150 passengers and has a gross weight of more than 200,000 pounds.

The Y-20 designation for this aircraft has been associated with the name Grand Canal. The 2010 Report To Congress of The U.S.-China Economic And Security Review Commission states that: "China has made little progress in modernizing its air transport fleet since its last effort in the early 1990s when it bought 18 Russian-made IL-76s. China currently is designing a 200-ton transport aircraft, which, when completed, is to be comparable to the U.S. Air Force C-130." [page 78] The source of this intelligence is unclear, since the open sources cited make no reference to such an airplane. The maximum takeoff weight of the latest C-130J is 87 tons, so a 200-ton aircraft would be in a completely different performance class. In 2005 two Flight International reporters -- Brendan Sobie and Andrew Doyle -- broke the story that China's Xian Aircraft Corp was developing a four-engine jet transport sized between the C-130 and the C-17.

Preliminary estimates suggest that the Y-20 has about the same range - about 4,500 kilometers or 2,000 miles - as the the medium size medium range Y-8 transport aircraft [each aircraft would thus have an operational radius of about 1,000 miles]. The Y-8 is a version of the Russian Antonov An-12 built produced by Shanxi Aircraft Company in China [the Chinese and Russian counterpart to the American C-130]. The Y-20 is assessed to have about three times the payload of the Y-8 - 60 tons versus 40 tons, and the turbojet powered Y-20 is estimated to be somewhat faster than the turboprop powered Y-8, with a maximum speed of 750-800 km/hr versus 660 km/hour.

The most noteworthy advance of the Y-20 over the Y-8 is not seen in the initial public photographs, but it quite striking in the artwork that surfaced at the same time. Four of the five artist concepts of the Y-20 feature a dorsal refueling probe above the cockpit. Aerial refueling could substantially extend the operational radius of the Y-20 versus that of the Y-8, an aircraft that does not have such a capability. And the Y-20 itself would be a nice aerial refueling platform. A single refueling could double the operational radius of the Y-20. Without refueling, the Y-20 could support paratroop airdrops in all of Indo-China and the South China Sea. With a single out-bound and in-bound refueling, all of South East Asia [save New Guinea] would be within reach of round-trip airborne assault operations. A second refueling [that is, four in all] would bring Australia within reach of Chinese paratroopers.

The development of the Y-20 is believed to have benefited greatly from assistance by the Ukrainian Antonov design bureau, which had been developing a military transport aircraft in this size class when the Soviet Union collapsed. Development of the AN-70 collapsed along with the Soviet Union, as it was dependent on a Russian turboprop engine. It will be seen that the cross section dimensions of the Y-20 are quite similar to those of the AN-70. But is equally clear that the Y-20 is not simply an "An-70 with jet engines" - the Y-20 is perhaps a quarter longer than the An-70, has a greater wingspan, more sweptback wings, and a high-T tail.

Although the Y-20 is superficially similar to the American C-17, and it is known that Chinese espionage gained access to C-17 technical documentation, the Y-20 is significantly smaller, and the resemblance is no more than superficial. In the past, such design similarities were noted with the American C-141 and Soviet Il-76 cargo planes, the British VC-10 and the Soviet Il-62 passenger planes, and the European and Soviet Supersonic transports. But in these instances, the resemblances were no more than superficial. The laws of aeronautical engineering and aerodynamics are the same in all countries.

In the US, on 16 July 2009, a former Boeing employee was convicted of selling C-17 technical details to China. Dongfan "Greg" Chung, 72, of Orange, Calif., who was employed by Rockwell International from 1973 until its defense and space unit was acquired by Boeing in 1996, was arrested February 11, 2008 without incident at his residence by special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and investigators with NASA. Chung, a native of China who is a naturalized United States citizen, held a Secret security clearance when he worked at Rockwell and Boeing on the Space Shuttle program. He retired from the company in 2002, but the next year he returned to Boeing as a contractor, a position he held until September 2006. The indictment alleged that he took and concealed Boeing trade secrets relating to the Space Shuttle, the C-17 military transport aircraft and the Delta IV rocket. Individuals in the Chinese aviation industry had begun sending Chung "tasking" letters as early as 1979. A May 2, 1987 letter from Gu Weihao, an official in the Ministry of Aviation and China Aviation Industry Corporation, concluded with the statement: "It is your honor and China's fortune that you are able to realize your wish of dedicating yourself to the service of your country." Chung responded in one undated letter that "I would like to make an effort to contribute to the Four Modernizations of China."

The actual dimensions of the Y-20 remain somewhat uncertain, so it is difficult to assign relative capacities with any great precision. But preliminary data indicates a cargo compartment appreciably smaller than that of the American C-17, and generally comparable to the Ukrainian An-70, which did not enter production. Compared with the Il-76, the Y-20 has a shorter wingspan and a shorter, but slightly wider, fuselage [5.4 meters versus 4.8 meters]. The Y-20 is larger than the Airbus A400M and has about the same fuselage diameter, but is much smaller than the Boeing C-17.

The Y-20 design addressed some of the shortcomings of the IL-76 design. The IL-76 fuselage and cargo hold is relatively narrow, which is a significant drawback in the transport role. In general, most cargo tends to bulk out before they hit their weight limit. The Y-20 fuselage and cargo hold was made wider and more efficient than the IL-76, allowing larger cargo dimensions. The IL-76 has a narrow cargo compartment that limits the size of the load. The Xian Y-20 is closer to the of C-17 cabins, i.e. within m. width 4.5 meters height and approximately 25 meters in length.

Russian sources suggested the Y-20 underwent a redesign in 2010 to enable it to lift the PLAs heaviest armored vehicle, the 58 ton Type 99A2 main battle tank. This would place the Y-20s payload capacity around that of the IL-76 MF (60 tons payload capacity) and perhaps between the IL-76 MF and C-17 Globemaster (77.5 tons maximum payload), depending on the power of the engines available.

The simultaneous announcement of two Large Civil Aircraft, one a freighter, and the other a 150-seat passenger aircraft, initially led to some confusion that these two projects envisioned a single aircraft produced in freighter and passenger variants. If the images portrayed by China's Xinhua news agency were accurate, China's jetliner for the 21st century looked suspiciously like a Russian military transport from the 1970s. The high-wing, high-tailed creation, with its multiple banks of landing gear trucks clustered under the fuselage, looks like the big Antonovs that still toil as chartered military cargo aircraft. It looked nothing like the sleek shape of the Boeing 787 that many consider the technology driver of the next generation of commercial airliners.

This made some sense, as a military freighter would be a low risk path to test systems that would subsequently find use on a commercial aircraft. Indeed, there was speculative artwork depicted a generic high-wing military transport outfitted as a passenger plane. In 2001 Japan had launched an indigenous aircraft program that intended to share a common airframe with the domestic C-2 high-wing twin-engine military transport and a low-wing P-1 four-engine Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Plans were also under way to develop the YP-X, a 120-150 seat passenger aircraft derived from the XP-1. However, as details of the Chinese passenger plane emerged, it became clear that it was of conventional layout, lacking the high wing required by a dedicated military transport.

Outlook Weekly via Xinhua News Agency (in Chinese), translated by China Digital Times (CDT), reported on March 29, 2006: "Developing large airplanes, with 100-ton and greater cargo or 150-passenger and greater capacity, has become a key component in promoting the development of aeronautics industry in China's 11th " Five-Year Plan." China will, at an appropriate timing during the 11th "Five-Year Plan," launch the R&D of large airplanes, said Jin Zhuanglong, spokesperson of the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, or COSTIND."

But this is a mis-translation. " The development of aircraft included in the national medium-and long-term science and technology development plan and the platform for "25" of the plan, it should be said is this based on a clear understanding of the situation at home and abroad of the Government decision. "Was involved in the Organization of the State Council's" large aircraft project demonstration group "of the Central Policy Research Office Wang Chaoping in acceptance of the lookout, a researcher at an interview with Newsweek say with certainty. The so-called large aircraft, refers to the take-off gross weight of more than 100 tons of transport aircraft, including military and civil large transport planes, including trunk passenger aircraft of more than 150 seats. It is the main civil aviation's most widely used models."

The initial suggestion that the "100-ton" figure referenced the airplane's cargo capacity led to speculation that China was planning to build an analog of the Antonov AN-124-100M-150, currently the world's largest transport aircraft, with a maximum payload of 150 tons and a maximum takeoff weight of about 400 tons. According to the Chinese web site, China Military Aviation, the "Y-20" will weigh more than 400,000lb, placing the transport between between the 585,000lb C-17 and the roughly 311,000lb A400M.




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