The major attraction at Zhuhai Air Show this year was the latest Shenyang FC-31 fighter which has generated a good deal of excitement. For the first time a new Chinese military aircraft has been shown which is in the early stages of development. In the past, new aircraft were seen only when they had started serving in the PLA’s air force.
At this stage, it is quite difficult to say how successful the Shenyang design team has been in developing an aircraft which is to have a low radar cross section to remain stealthy.
The placement of two engines in the fighter plane, and how well the heat signature from the engines has been suppressed by the design of the exhaust nozzle section – all remain unanswered questions.
The FC-31’s flight demo shows that it “bleeds” enormous amount of energy. Whenever, it enters into a turn it starts to lose altitude. The worse bit is that even during straight and level flight the pilot has to use the afterburners in order to save the aircraft from sinking to a lower altitude. These are apparent defects because of less aerodynamic design.
Many aerospace analysts hinted that the FC-31 shown at Zhuhai is a “clean” jet in that it is not armed, which means that the plane configured for a real mission and with weapons would be even heavier and is likely to perform even worse.