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AVIC WZ-8


Supersonic / Hypersonic Reconnaissance Drone (2019)


Aviation / Aerospace

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Image from Chinese media release.

Jump-to: Specifications

The AVIC WZ-8 supersonic-hypersonic drone has been around for some time now, debuted to the public in 2019 and believed to be in testing today.



Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 11/22/2021 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.
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The military value of "hypersonics" has increased considerably over the last decade with developments evolving in the United States, Russia, and China at notable paces. Hypersonic speeds sit between supersonic and high-supersonic (the specimen capable of exceeding 5x the Speed of Sound) and require specially-designed vehicles to deal with proper external air flow / distribution and excessive heat generated as these vehicles operate at near-space altitudes. Examples include the American Boeing X-51 "Waverider" test aircraft (detailed elsewhere on this site) and the Chinese DF-ZF glide vehicle while other attack-minded models include the 3M22 "Zircon" anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile by Russia.

Hypersonic aircraft must content with aeronautic forces beyond that of conventional atmosphere specimens, particularly with acceleration, re-entry from orbit and cruising at hypersonic speeds. Since the vehicles are near-space capable, they can reach points all over the globe in record time - certainly suitable for reconnaissance-centric and possibly attack drones used against an enemy.

During a 2019 military parade in Beijing, the AVIC "WZ-8" supersonic-capable / near-hypersonic-capable unmanned drone aircraft was unveiled to the public. Its existence was solidified when the aircraft reappeared in the September 2021 Zhuhai Air Show among a collection of other Chinese-originated Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs). The 2019 showing saw examples of the aircraft paraded on flatbed truck while the 2021 showing was an approachable static display.

The WZ-8 bears a similarity (in both form and function) to the American Cold War-era Lockheed D-21 drone which was regularly used in spying runs across Chinese airspace (the Chinese claiming downed examples in the process - no doubt researching the technology to the extreme). The WZ-8 is air-launched (a pair of suspension lugs along the dorsal spine corroborate this), requiring a "mothership" such as the People's Liberation Army Air Force's (PLAAF's) in-service Xian H-6N bomber to carry it to appropriate launch altitudes underwing (the WZ-8 lacks intakes and therefore an air-breathing engine to launch under its own power). Once at altitude, the UAS engages its rocket motor and can proceed to the target at speeds near or beyond Mach 5 - capable of outrunning Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs).

Such aircraft can be used in a variety of over-battlefield roles such as general reconnaissance, pre-attack target/force strength assessment, and post-attack observation. While range can be severely impacted by use of rocket boosters for propulsion in a near-space-capable vehicle, this is somewhat offset by the "climb-and-dive" capability inherent in developments.

The WZ-8 operates through two booster units embedded in the fuselage in a side-by-side arrangement. The fuselage itself is designed through wing-body blending to produce an elegant, aerodynamically-refined arrow-like shape - the nose is well-pointed and slender and the fuselage shaping tubular. Each mainplanes utilize considerable surface area and are capped by vertical, outward-canted fins negating a traditional tailplane unit. A wheeled tricycle undercarriage is featured for ground-running, the interpretation being that the WZ-8 is a reusable vehicle retrieved by way of prepared runway.

Performance figures for this vehicle appearing on this page are estimates on the part of the author.

Specifications



Service Year
2019

Origin
China national flag graphic
China

Status
ACTIVE
In Limited Service.
Crew
0
UNMANNED
Production
10
UNITS


AViation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) - China
National flag of China China
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Unmanned Capability
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.


MULTI-ENGINE
Incorporates two or more engines, enhancing survivability and / or performance.
SUPERCRUISE
Capable of sustained supersonic flight without the need for engine afterburner/reheat enabled.
WING SWEEPBACK
Mainplanes, or leading edges, features swept-back lines for enhanced high-speed performance and handling.
HIGH-SPEED PERFORMANCE
Can accelerate to higher speeds than average aircraft of its time.
HIGH-ALTITUDE PERFORMANCE
Can reach and operate at higher altitudes than average aircraft of its time.
EXTENDED RANGE PERFORMANCE
Capability to travel considerable distances through onboard fuel stores.
SUPER PERFORMANCE
Design covers the three all-important performance categories of speed, altitude, and range.
MARITIME OPERATION
Ability to operate over ocean in addition to surviving the special rigors of the maritime environment.
RETRACTABLE UNDERCARRIAGE
Features retracting / retractable undercarriage to preserve aerodynamic efficiency.
UNMANNED OPERATION
Design features ability to fly sans pilot, actions controlled onboard through programming and / or ground-based operator.
AUTONOMOUS OPERATION
Design features autonomous flight operations made possible through onboard artificial intelligence or pre-programming.
CAMERA EQUIPMENT
Payload supports photographic equipment providing still and / or real-time image / video results.


Length
67.5 ft
(20.57 m)
Width/Span
9.4 ft
(2.85 m)
Height
10.5 ft
(3.20 m)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base AVIC WZ-8 production variant)
monoplane / low-mounted / swept-back
Monoplane
Design utilizes a single primary wing mainplane; this represent the most popular mainplane arrangement.
Low-Mounted
Mainplanes are low-mounted along the sides of the fuselage.
Swept-Back
The planform features wing sweep back along the leading edges of the mainplane, promoting higher operating speeds.
(Structural descriptors pertains to the base AVIC WZ-8 production variant)
Installed: 2 x Liquid-fueled rocket boosters.
Max Speed
3,299 mph
(5,310 kph | 2,867 kts)
Ceiling
140,010 ft
(42,675 m | 27 mi)


♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
Sub
Trans
Super
Hyper
HiHyper
ReEntry
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030


(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the base AVIC WZ-8 production variant. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database. View aircraft by powerplant type)
None.


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