CHINA - A Chinese stealth unmanned combat aerial vehicle had its maiden flight on Thursday, photos taken by military fans revealed.
The successful flight shows the nation has again narrowed the air-power disparity between itself and Western nations.
The Sharp Sword conducted its first flight in a test-flight centre in Southwest China at around 1 pm, fans said on cjdby.net, China’s most popular military website, adding that the test lasted nearly 20 minutes.
Several pictures in the post showed a delta-wing drone in flight with one photo showing its takeoff.
The news and photos have since been widely forwarded by major news websites, including Sina and people.com.cn, the online portal of People’s Daily. Xinhua News Agency also highlighted the pictures on its website.
The Sharp Sword was developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Design Institute and manufactured by Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, military observers said. Both belong to Aviation Industry Corp of China, the nation’s leading aircraft manufacturer.
The drone has been called China’s equivalent to the US’ Northrop Grumman X-47 series and the nEUROn, a joint effort of various European companies.
A worker at the information office of Aviation Industry Corp of China who refused to be named declined to confirm the news on late Thursday.
Since early May, a host of long-distance photos of a Sharp Sword prototype began to appear on several military websites, with observers speculating the photos signaled that the cutting-edge unmanned combat aerial vehicle was going to have its maiden flight soon.
With the test flight on Thursday, China became the fourth power in the world, after the US, the European Union and the United Kingdom, capable of putting a stealth drone into the sky.
"The drone can be used for reconnaissance and an air-to-ground strike, but more importantly, it has a huge potential for aircraft carriers," Wang Ya’nan, deputy editor-in-chief at Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told China Daily.
"I think the size and technological capability of the Sharp Sword make it a suitable choice for the navy if it is to select an unmanned combat platform for its aircraft carrier."
Wang said that the high visibility on the sea and the advanced radar used on modern battleships mean the carrier-based aircraft must have excellent stealth technology to evade detection, which in turn provide a good opportunity for the stealth drone.
The drone used in the test flight seemed to be equipped with the RD-93, a Russian turbofan engine, he said, adding that the engine was originally designed for a fighter jet, making it relatively large for a drone.
"Using the RD-93 compromises the stealth capability of the Sharp Sword, but the situation will be changed after our domestically developed engine that is specifically designed for drones enters production," Wang said.