Because of the one-time close relationship between the Soviet Union and communist China, the latter received all manner of access to Soviet technology in the war of aircraft, armor, warships, and small arms. First-flown in December 1957, the Antonov An-12 (NATO codename of "Cub") quickly proved itself a steady performer and production of the type ultimately yielded 1,248 total examples of which some were operated locally by the Soviets and a plethora sent overseas to customers ranging from Angola and Armenia to Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia. As with other foreign-born military products, Chinese industry recreated the An-12 as a local solution in the "Y-8" by Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation.
The Y-8 is in active service with the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and had its own first-flight on December 25th, 1974. Developed from the An-12, it retains all of the form-and-function of the original while being more Chinese-centric to suit local requirements. At least 170 of the Chinese form have been produced.
The Y-8 was born from the Sino-Soviet Split of 1956-1966 during which Chinese-Soviet relations worsened. However, the Chinese already had gained access to the An-12 and an assembly license which laid the groundwork for a local solution to be had. The Y-8 was given a revised glazed-over nose assembly and, internally, a roller-based cargo system was installed to facilitate movement of pallets into and out of the cargo bay of the aircraft. The ramp was retained under the raised tail for ease-of-access though early versions featured an inward opening arrangement as opposed to the more common rearward-opening (showcased in later production forms).
The operating crew could number as little as two or as many as five depending on production model. The hold could further seat 90 combat-ready troops or up to 44,100lb of cargo.
Dimensions of the aircraft included a length of 111.6 feet, a wingspan of 124.7 feet, and a height of 36.6 feet. Empty weight was 78,245lb while Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) could reach as high as 134,500lb.
As a reverse-engineered form of the Antonov An-12, the Y-8 copied its general arrangement which included a rounded, streamlined fuselage, shoulder-mounted wing mainplanes, and single-finned tail unit. The flight deck was positioned over and aft of the nose section offering generally good views. The mainplanes were seated high to help clear the spinning propeller blades of the four-engined lay out. The undercarriage remained a tricycle arrangement that was wholly retractable with a twin-wheeled nose leg under the cockpit floor and twin-bogied (four-wheeled) main legs under center mass.
Power was pulled from 4 x Zhuzhou WoJiang-6 (WJ-6) turboprop engines, each developing 4,250 horsepower and driving four-bladed constant-speed propellers. Lacking the know-how to design and develop their own engines, the WJ-6 was simply the Chinese version of the ubiquitous Soviet Ivchenko AI-20 turboprop of the 1950s.
With these engines coupled to the base Y-8 airframe, the aircraft could reach speeds of 410 miles-per-hour, cruise near 340 mph, and range out to 3,500 miles. Its service ceiling was up to 34,100 feet while rate-of-climb reached 2,000 feet-per-minute.
In its prototype form, the Y-8 was evaluated from mid-1972 until its first-flight in December 1974 and tested into 1975. However, quantitative serial production was not reached until 1981 despite official certification being granted to the type. In the mid-1980s, in an attempt by Lockheed to interest the Chinese military in its C-130 "Hercules" four-engined tactical transport, the company inadvertently proved the Y-8 a capable mount all its own through various measures. During the early 2000s, the line of Chinese Y-8 aircraft was modernized with the help of Ukraine-based Antonov - the original producer of the Soviet-era An-12.
In Chinese service with both its Air Force and Navy branches, the Y-8 is used in a myriad of roles covering military and peacetime initiatives. It is used to ferry troops and supplies as well as vehicles while also supporting humanitarian efforts as needed. It has become a proven, versatile platform that rivals Eastern and Western developments while being evolved further to undertake more dedicated over-battlefield roles.
The first production models were designated simply as "Y-8" but featured unpressurized holds which limited their usefulness. The Y-8A was developed as a helicopter transport while Y-8AF was used to cover Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) testing. Y-8B was another unpressurized model used to ferry passengers and goods and Y-8C was improved with a pressurized hold retaining the rear-loading ramp of the B-model.
The Y-8C formed the basis for the Y-8CA modified for the Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) role. The Y-8D was an export model with "Western-style" avionics fit. The Y-8DZ was used in the electronic SIGnals INTelligence (SIGINT) role and easily identified by its canister-type array just ahead of the tail fin. The Y-8E was modified for the drone-carrying role.
Beyond these early marks, and many other later marks of the series detailed in the Variants Section below, the most notable of the line are the continually evolved variants that include the "KJ-200" and "KJ-500". The former is used in the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) role, carrying an Active, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) system over its fuselage, while the latter is similar in its battlefield function but sports up to three AESA radar systems and additional antennae.
The line is currently (2020) in use with the military forces of Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, and Venezuela.