China / Government

Plane development problems 'still to be solved'

By Zhao Lei (China Daily) Updated: 2015-05-13 07:43

China must resolve a host of technological and technical difficulties before it can develop a reliable short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft, aviation industry insiders say.

"STOVL aircraft use some extremely sophisticated technology and techniques," said Song Xinzhi, an aviation equipment expert in Beijing who served in the PLA air force for more than three decades.

"Even the US, which boasts the highest level of aviation technology, has spent about 20 years on its Lockheed Martin F-35B project."

Despite the fact that the F-35B will soon start active service in the US military, some problems linger, casting a shadow over its deployment, Song said.

"For instance, the heat caused by its engine exhaust can easily melt the steel deck on the carrier ship, and the United States is still figuring out a solution, otherwise the vertical takeoff capability will be disabled."

The plane's complex structure and extra instruments result in the fuel tank and weapons bay being smaller than in conventional fixed-wing aircraft, meaning that engineers have to use delicate designs to offset the disadvantage, Song added.

Wang Mingliang, a professor at the PLA Air Force Command College, said the thrust vectoring system, balancing instruments and nozzle materials are major technological obstacles that the Aviation Industry Corp of China must overcome to build a STOVL aircraft.

Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said that although China is facing these difficulties, it should persist in the development of the STOVL fighter jet.

"The F-35B project has cost the US a lot of money and resources, but the Americans have never given it up. This is because they clearly know the STOVL aircraft's importance in naval and amphibious operations.

"The British navy has also said that it would have been a disaster for its fleet if there had been no Sea Harrier jump jets in the 1982 Falklands War (also known as the Malvinas War)."

The US Marine Corps has had a standing force of STOVL aircraft for more than 30 years and is expecting to commission its first Lockheed Martin F-35Bs, the most advanced STOVL aircraft in the world.

Wang Ya'nan said, "At the initial stage, we needn't set a standard as high as that of the F-35B for our STOVL fighter jet.

"Instead, our designers should set a technically feasible goal, so that they can make a basic version as soon as possible. ... After that, they can gradually develop more advanced, upgraded variants.

"Unlike the F-35B, I don't think our STOVL aircraft will need stealth capability, so the aerodynamic design will be easier."

Plane development problems 'still to be solved'

Hot Topics