The largest amphibious aircraft in the world, the AG600 “Kunlong” of the Chinese AVIC, completed its first takeoff from the water on October 20. The aircraft took off from Zhangue Dam on the edge of Jingmen Airport in China. The plane had been tested in flight since December 2017, but operating only from runways on land.
The category of the AG600 is also known as “Flying Boats”. The main feature of this segment is the underside of the fuselage of the airplane shaped like a ship’s hull.
And the new AVIC aircraft is a giant flying boat: the aircraft is 36.9 meters long (121 feet) by 38.8 m (127 feet) wingspan and can take off with a maximum weight of 53,500 kg (117,945 pounds). Such size (except for the maximum takeoff weight) is similar to the Boeing 737-700.
The AG600 is one of three major aircraft projects in progress in China with government support. The other planes are the Y-20 military freighter, developed by Xi’an, and the COMAC commercial jet C919.
Unlike the Y-20 and C919, which use a number of imported items, AVIC’s amphibious aircraft is the Chinese project with the highest proportion of components developed locally. According to the manufacturer, about 98% of the aircraft’s items are produced in China, including the Dongan WJ-6 turbo-propellers.
The AG600 also features interesting performance numbers. According to AVIC, the aircraft can fly at a maximum speed of 308 knots (570 kph) and cruising 270 knots (500 kph) at 34,450 feet (10,500 meters) and has a range of up to 2,430 nautical miles ( 4,500 km).
Why such a large amphibious aircraft?
The AG600 is designed to fly with civilian or military operators. The plane can carry 50 passengers or ship 12 tons of cargo. This capability will be welcome for the supply and logistical operations of the controversial artificial islands that China has been building in the South China Sea region.
Other important functions of the Chinese amphibious aircraft will be search and rescue missions and the possibility of fighting fires. To perform this task, the AG600 will be equipped with a system capable of pumping more than 12,000 liters of water into internal reservoirs in just 20 seconds.
AVIC has already received 16 orders for the AG600, all from China. The company, however, has not yet disclosed the identity of future aircraft operators.
Soviets have gone further
The AG600 is the largest amphibious aircraft today, but not the largest ever to fly. This title belongs to Beriev A-40 Albatros, a project started in the days of the former Soviet Union and whose return has been considered by the Russian government in recent years.
The Albatros flew for the first time in 1986, but the project was suspended after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The aircraft, however, set 140 records in its category, among them the world’s fastest amphibious aircraft under the brand name 800 km / h and of greater size in this category.
The A-40 measures 132 feet in length (43.8 meters) by 136.5 feet in wingspan (41.6 m). Its maximum takeoff weight is around 190,000 pounds (86,000 kg). The main function of the Albatros in the former USSR were underwater warfare missions.