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  • Xian Y-20 (Kunpeng) Long-Range Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft

    The Xian Y-20 is an indigenous Chinese effort to field a capable long-endurance, strategic-level, heavy-lift transport aircraft for the PLAAF.

     Updated: 11/30/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    After decades of relying - and then locally copying - Soviet Russian aircraft types, the Chinese undertook several indigenous programs to help evolve their burgeoning aviation industry. More recent developments have included the much-publicized Chengdu J-20 stealth aircraft and, in January of 2013, the still-in-development Xian Y-20 taking to the skies in China's bid to develop an in-house strategic airlifter. The program was born in a 2006 initiative while delays pushed back the initial unveiling until December of 2012 to which ground testing quickly ensued. First flight of the Y-20 platform was recorded on January 26th, 2013 with the program now covering two full prototypes headed by the Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (otherwise recognized simply as "Xian" for the purposes of this article). The Y-20 was formally introduced for service with the PLA Air Force on July 6th, 2016.

    Its design is attributed to Xian's "603 First Aircraft Design Institute" (part of AVIC).

    To date, the Chinese have relied on the Cold War-era Soviet Ilyushin IL-72 for their large-scale air transport requirement - and the Y-20 certainly showcases some similarities to the proven Russian offering while being dimensionally different physically but the same in battlefield role. When it reaches operational-level capabilities, the Y-20 will form a powerful arm of the PLAAF (People's Liberation Army Air Force) and take-on both military- and humanitarian-minded roles while perhaps projecting an appealing end-product to the foreign market requiring a budget-conscious alternative to more expensive Western and Russian offerings including the American C-17 Globemaster III, the Russian Ilyushin IL-76 (and newer Antonov An-70) and the French Airbus A400M Atlas - the Y-20 is thought to be comparable to all of these airframes in scope and function.

    For its general outward configuration, Xian engineers elected for several notable tried-and-true design elements when constructing their Y-20 - design elements pioneered in the successful American Lockheed C-141 Starlifter of the 1960s. The Chinese design relies a deep and wide fuselage for its cargo hold with the flight deck at the extreme front and a "T-style" tail with high-mounted horizontal planes at the rear. This allows the tail section to be elevated from the ground and afford access to a rear powered cargo door when accepting or extracting various cargo types. The elevated tail section forces the main portion of the fuselage to remain rather low on the ground when the aircraft is at rest. As such a large collection of rubber tires are added to the reinforced main landing gear legs -a total of twelve wheels - to support the sheer mass of the airframe. The nose is supported by a standard two-wheeled leg unit. The undercarriage is said to comply with expected "rough-field" operations - a requirement of such aircraft in the modern world.

    The Y-20 is given high-mounted monoplane wings with slight sweep along their leading edges and lesser sweep along their trailing edges. This allows engine nacelles to be fitted as underslung units, two to a wing, and provide the ground clearance needed for an aircraft expected to have much traffic around itself when landed. The engines are of local Chinese production though of Russian origin - the same as powering the aforementioned Cold War-era IL-76 (Saturn/Soloviev D-30KP) and the Xian H-6 strategic-bomber-turned-missile-carrier. Wings feature triple-slotted trailing edge flaps and full-span slats which, when coupled with the high-mounted wings and basic four-engined arrangement, allows for the required operational ranges as well as strong low-speed handling and performance characteristics.

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    Xian Y-20 (Kunpeng) Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 2016
    Type: Long-Range Strategic Airlifter Transport Aircraft
    National Origin: China
    Manufacturer(s): Xian Aircraft Industries Corporation (AVIC) - China
    Production Total: 8

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 3
    Length: 154.20 feet (47 meters)
    Width: 164.04 feet (50.00 meters)
    Height: 49.21 feet (15.00 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 220,462 lb (100,000 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 485,017 lb (220,000 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 4 x WS-18 (Soloviev D-30KP-2) turbofan engines (to be replaced by WS-20 turbofans in production).

    Maximum Speed: 572 mph (920 kph; 497 knots)
    Maximum Range: 2,796 miles (4,500 km)
    Service Ceiling: 42,651 feet (13,000 meters; 8.08 miles)

    Armament / Mission Payload


    Global Operators / Customers


    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    Y-20 - Series Designation

    Yun-20 - Alternative Designation

    20001 - Initial Prototype Model Designation

    "Kunpeng" - Internal Project Codename