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BZK-009 / WZ9 / WZ-2000

WZ9 drone [not to be confused with the WZ-9 attack helicopters] first flew on December 26, 2003. The WZ-2000 (also known as Wuren Zhencha or WuZhen-2000) unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) took off at Guizhou Aviation Industry Group (GAIC) on Dec. 26, 2003, marking the success of China's first independently developed UCAV.

Its improved version (BZK-009 - very poorly attested) first flew in 2006. The UAV entered limited service with PLA Department of Chief Staff in 2007 and conducts only strategic reconnaissance missions. A WZ-2000 model was on display at the 2004 Zhuahi Airshow. Also known as WZ-9 (K/JWR9?), this reconnaissance stealth UAV has been under development at GAIC since 1999.

Its stealth design features a fuselage with a flat bottom surface blended seamlessly with long swept wings to reduce RCS ( < 1m2 head-on). A single turbofan engine (WS-11) sits on top of the tail section with its intake shielded by the wing section and its exhaust nozzle shielded by twin "V" shaped tailfins extending 30-40 outwards to reduce both radar and IR signatures. WZ-9 carries a large satellite communication antenna inside its nose bulge for real-time transmission of images and ELINT data back to the ground control station. It also carries FLIR and CCD cameras inside a turret underneath its nose for navigation and photo reconnaissance. A synthetic aperture radar (SAR) can be installed under its fuselage as well.

WZ-9 looks generally similar to American Global Hawk long-range stealth UAV but has a much smaller size and shorter range. The development of this UAV could also provide valuable experience for future stealth cruise missiles.

China felt the need for a UCAV in the wake of the Kosovo War, which broke out in March 1999. During the war, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) played a large role in the assaults launched by the United States and NATO. Yang Shaowen, who was at that time chairman of Guizhou Aviation Industry Group (GAIC), agreed that in future warfare, UAVs would play a larger role. "In the future, countries at war will compete on information technology. The side that lacks information will be doomed to fail," he said. Over the years, the main enterprise of GAIGC produced the J-6 IV interceptor (1970) and various versions of the JJ-7/FT-7 trainer (starting in February 1986); it also manufactured J-7 components for Chengdu. Current programs include the JL-9 (FTC-2000) advanced trainer. The group also produces air-to-air missiles and rocket launchers (at the Fel'lglei Armament Factory), as well as maintenance jigs and tools for the Airbus airliner family.

Several months later, Yang had colleagues explore the market potential for a UCAV in Beijing. They returned with a two-sentence conclusion: "The UCAV is a new piece of equipment and its prospects is good. GAIC is not ready for such research and development." The comment was true. GAIC's focus had been training, and it did not have the staff, know-how, facilities nor the market or customers. The UCAV sector in China at that time was largely dominated by three institutions the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA, also known as Beihang), the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA), and Northwestern Polytechnical University. No industrial firms had any share in it.

GAIC was encouraged to collaborate with BUAA to ask the Aviation Industry Corporation of China for support, and a joint venture was eventually cemented on Dec. 25 that year. Before long, the company got its first order from the military, which gave the UCAV company confidence and solved its pressing financial burdens. However, as Yang recounted, the military insisted it would only pay the money if the UCAV met all its demands.

The WZ-2000 was exhibited at the 2001 Zhuhai Air Show and caused quite a stir at the time. The aircraft participating in th3 November 2002 exhibition retained the original number. However, the shape of the aircraft has undergone a fundamental change. For the sake of stealth performance, the new WZ-2000 adopts wing-wing fusion technology, with a slightly tilted tail and a raised nose. At first glance, it looks extremely close to the US Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, but much smaller. For comparison, the American RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV with a length of 13.5 meters, an altitude of 4.62 meters and a wingspan of 35.4 meters, with a maximum endurance of 36 hours. The WZ-2000 is smaller (length - 7.5 meters. The WZ-2000 is designed for a working ceiling of 18,000 meters with a maximum speed of 800 km / h and a flight duration of only 3 hours.

When talking about the huge change in the shape of the aircraft, designer Huang Guojiang of the Guizhou Aerospace Industry Group UAV Center, told reporters that the WZ-2000 exhibited at the last air show was only a conceptual model, and the current model is the aerodynamic shape that has been selected through the wind tunnel test. There will be a huge difference between the current shape and the concept stage shape. As for why it resembles the "global eagle", the yellow designer said that the similarity does not mean copying the American technology, which is entirely based on the results of the wind tunnel test.

Years of toil were eventually rewarded after the test flight of GAIC's first prototype UCAV, scheduled for Dec. 26, 2008. "We specially picked Mao Zedong's birthday to launch our product," Yang said. On the day, vehicles were packed in the roads outside the airport, along with around a thousand people, who gathered to witness the scene. Among the crowd was Wang Fuxin, an 84-year-old retired man from Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, who came to Guizhou Province in the 1960s to support regional development. "At GAIC we now have our own UCAV. I am so proud of it," he said.

The crowd applauded as the UCAV took off, but they did not know that soon after the vehicle was airborne, its altimeter malfunctioned. The reading on the altimeter remained at 70 centimeters. According to Yang, the loss of altitude data meant that the aircraft was unable to land, but it had a narrow escape. The GAIC's remote-control pilot tried various maneuvers so that the ground crew could manually detect its altitude. As the plane touched ground, the whole research team were moved to tears. The scheduled 27-minute flight ended up lasting 74 minutes.

Later, the team discovered the problem was due to poor electromagnetic shielding. The altimeter receiver picked up signals from the fuselage, so it was unable to detect the true altitude. The accidents actually served a stress test for GAIC's response to an emergency. The staff remained unruffled while ensuring the plane's safe landing.

Zhang Xiang, former Deputy Commander of the PLA's Second Artillery Force, who watched the test flight, praised the GAIC team. He said, "High-tech equipment cannot be flawless, but your composed attitude in a crisis has put you among the first class." Apart from displaying GAIC's professionalism, the accident also forced the staff to conduct a manual aerial maneuver, which was due in six months.

In the same year, WZ-2000 formally entered military service, and became China's first industrially produced UCAV. One year later, GAIC unveiled its second generation UCAV, capable of "surgical strikes." Chinese insiders claim that it can rival the US Predator.

First Flight 2003
length 7.5m,
wingspan 9.8m,
max TO weight 1.7t,
mission payload 80kg,
motor WS11
max level speed 800km/h,
ceiling 18,000m,
combat radius 800km,
endurance 3hr.

BZK-009 / WZ9 / WZ-2000 BZK-009 / WZ9 / WZ-2000 BZK-009 / WZ9 / WZ-2000





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