After 1979 the Chengdu Aircraft Company (former Chengdu Aircraft Factory) developed three export versions: the J-7A, J-7B and J-7M on the basis of foreign customers' requirements with imported airborne equipment. Among them the J-7M was the most successful version. J-7M, the latest version of the export aircraft, was based on the J-7B. The F-7M Airguard interceptor and fighter-bomber, an enhanced version of the J-7 II aircraft, was built in the early 1980s and designed mainly for export. The first aircraft were delivered in 1984. The aircraft had two additional pylons under the wing ( for air-to-air short-range PL-7 missile or outboard tanks) and a number of other improvements. The airframe and landing gear were strengthened. But the main difference was the replacement of Chinese avionics with Western systems. Indicator display aircraft equipped with windshield, radar rangefinder, recoverability rap, air data computer, and multimode radio.
Carried out by the Chengdu Aircraft Factory, the J-7M was an improvement of the J-7II in which seven foreign items were incorporated into the avionics of the J-7. Eight domestic improvements were also made. The most important improvements incorporated in the J-7M were to the avionics and fire control systems. Imported equipment was used for this. The others were the use of a bird-proof windshield, the addition of two store carriers under the wing, the strengthening of the landing gear and eight other improvements. Among the advantages of the J-7M were the head-up display, high precision and fast speed firing and ground attack capabilities, long distance radar with counter-countermeasures capability and an advanced communication transceiver. The performance of the ejection escape system was improved at zero-altitude situations and could be used at lower speeds an (130-850 km/h IAS). The aircraft could be fitted with short-range air-to-air missiles for improved dogfighting capabilities.
Moreover, the life of the aircraft, engine and vendor-furnished-equipment and components were extended. The J-7M was significantly improved over the J-7B in its overall performance so that it became one of the most advanced high speed high altitude light fighters in contemporary China.
The development of the J-7M began in 1981 and Tu Jida was appointed chief designer. In order to test the weapon system and performance of the J-7M, several flight tests were carried out at the Flight Research Institute. Trial tests of the J-7M began in August 1983. In-flight target practice was performed abroad. Air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon capabilities and dog fighting were tested in 40 sorties and 18 accumulated flying hours. Target practice scores were good. In December 1984 the MAI certificated the design of the J-7M. China began the J-7M&'s export 1985 and by the end of 1985 all aircraft ordered by foreign customers had been delivered on time.
The J-7M's design was certified and adopted in 1988, giving the J-7 family an aircraft with all-weather capabilities. The successful development of the J-7M shows that it is feasible to import advanced foreign airborne equipment to improve the performance of domestic aircraft and thus to promote exports.
China expected to license the production of this aircraft in Pakistan under the designation Sabre II, with the manufacturing of the avionics and equipment to deal with an American firm Grumman. It also considered the possibility of replacing the engine with versions of either the GE F404 or Pratt & Whitney PW1120 turbofan. But Pakistan chose the F-7P [P for Pakistan] Skybolt (this name was soon dropped), a further development of the F-7M with an additional western avionics, able to carry both close combat missiles such as the PL-5, and AIM-9. The nd "zero-zero" Martin-Baker Mk 10 l ejection seat was used instead of the Chinese Chengdu HTY-4 (Type IV). For Iran in China established a simplified version of the F-M, the F-7N, with Chinese avionics; 18 machines were delivered. Another simplified form is probably having the symbol F-7 IIN, bundled for Zimbabwe. An improved version of the F-7NI was created for Nigeria, which was until received 12 such aircraft by 2006.
In 1988, China began testing a new version of F-7P, the F-7MP, with a modified engine, a modified cabin layout and new avionics. Instead of the previously used GEC-Marconi Type 226 Skyranger radar range finder, FIAR Grifo 7 fire control system was installed. In the final form of the station was available as an option for the next version of the F-7MR, fully equipped with on-board equipment of Western production, including Marconi Super Skyranger pulse-doppler radar.
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