China unveils world’s largest amphibious plane

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China has built the world’s largest amphibious plane, designed initially for rescue and fire-fighting duties.

Made by the state’s aircraft maker, the AG600 is around the size of a Boeing 737 and will be used to douse forest fires and rescue people in danger offshore. Measuring 37 m (121 ft) long with a wingspan of 38.8 m (127 ft), the gargantuan amphibious aircraft is capable of taking off and landing both on terra firma and stretches of water, provided they are more than 1,500 m long, 200 m wide and 2.5 m deep (0.93 mi, 656 ft and 8.2 ft). It has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes (59 tons), a top cruising speed of 500 km/h (310.7 mph) and a range of 4,500 km (2,800 mi), and can fly for 12 hours at a time, according to its builder, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

Much like the Russians, the Chinese aerospace industry is controlled and supervised by the government. Unlike the Russians, however, the Chinese for the moment seem much more capable under this top-down system to develop new designs. They say for example that this new amphibious plane already has 17 domestic orders.

I must admit to a bit of skepticism however. Was this plane built because there was a demand, or because the powers-that-be decided they wanted it built? I am not sure. The video at the link suggests to me the latter, with its hard core sales pitch similar to a lot of other government projects I have seen, where the project is built because some politician or bureaucrat conceived and pushed it, but it doesn’t really have a viable purpose.


One comment

  • Tom Billings

    Since my first comment didn’t get posted, I’ll try again. This plane *may* be perfect for a number of roles that fit with Politburo desires. It makes supporting expansion into the South China Sea islands with air supply routes far easier, since you need not demolish part of the atoll to build an airstrip. This keeps the atoll from washing away due to changing currents and killing corals to build a large airstrip.

    It also allows heavier air transport throughout the South China Coast, where the mountains often come down to the sea, with few long stretches of flat land for airstrips capable of serving this size plane outside the few river deltas. There is an historic problem of isolation on the South Coast making it a venue for “troubles” to get started, and dissidents to shelter. Lastly, much of inland China south of the Huai River, and especially South of the Yangtze, has lots of water lying around, even though many of the lakes have shrunk due to irrigation and industrial water use. This plane makes it easier to serve them with more than helicopters or small “puddle jumper” airliners.

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