The 8th edition of the Airshow China held at the Zhuhai airport was announced this year with a strong participation of the China Air Force, the PLAAF (People's Liberation Army - Air Force). Preparations were thus made to visit this event with the hope to catch a glimpse of some hardware of this still very secret Air Force. The first announcement of the flying program was unfortunately glooming, but as each aircraft there would be a rare item I was really looking forward to this event.
Where? Zhuhai, Guangdong, PR China
After spending three days at the show - and thus avoiding the crowded public days from Friday to Saturday - it can be said that Airshow China was an event mainly focusing on the achievements of the Chinese Aviation Industry.
The three halls mainly focused on the different Chinese aviation companies and the flying display also consisted to the biggest part of Chinese aircraft. Unfortunately the PLAAF only played a minor part there and showed of (only) five aircraft on the ground: JH-7 Leopard, J-8 Finback, the H-6 bomber (which is a modified Tu-16), KJ-200 (and AWACS-version of the Y-8 aircraft) and the ZA-9 armed attack helicopter. For the enthusiasts however it made up for the highlight of the flying program with their Chengdu JJ-5 and Shanyang J-6 jets and the propeller-powered Nanchang CJ-5 - these aircraft are license versions of the Russian twin-seat MiG-17, MiG-19 and Yak-18, and appear to be still in service in the PLAAF, even if only in small numbers nowadays. A good addition was furthermore the Z-8 helicopter (more or less a Super Frelon) that brought up a parachute team to do some performances.
Without doubt being the highlight was the "1st August" Demonstration Team: the PLAAF's has recently been re-equipping the team with six of the new Chengdu J-10 fighters and it performed its first full public display at Zhuhai. The display included several aerobatic manoeuvres as a 6-ship as well as solo demonstrations using smoke and flares. Most obviously the local crowed was most enthusiastic about this performance and it has to be said that this team already flies on a very high level with precise formations, timings as well as a good choreography to allow for always having a jet with visual contact for the crowd.
The other military participant was the Pakistan Air Force, bringing with them 3 JF-17/FC-1 Thunder, a small and light combat aircraft developed together by China and Pakistan. The huge Pakistani delegation was warmly welcomed and celebrated by the Chinese as showed the warm welcome and photo requests by many visitors. The real highlight was of course the first ever display of the JF-17 in a foreign country, which showed the power and agility of the 'Thunder'.
Together with the JF-17 the Pakistanis also brought the "Sherdils" Display Team to Zhuhai, flying 6 K-8 jet trainer aircraft. This display was not what you are might be used to see in Europe, but the fact seeing six Pakistani aircraft in very nice colours in formation above our heads made well up for this.
Of course the Chinese aircraft must not be forgotten. The premiere was the L15 'Falcon' advanced jet trainer, recently equipped with two AI-222K-25F turbofan engines with afterburner. It showed a full flying display giving an impression of its agility and power/weight ratio. Looking a bit like the T-50 or M346 it remains to be seen what the future of this new aircraft on the jet trainer stage might be.
Three more new products were furthermore presented by AVIC, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China :
- o the AC313 helicopter is the update of the Z-8, the latter one itself being based on the French 'Super Frelon'
- o the MA600 turboprop civil transport aircraft
- o and last but not least the colourful ARJ21, China's answer to the market for small jet-powered airlines. It is based on components of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 and powered by two CF34-10A engines.
From the west the mighty A380 was the showstopper during the flight display. It performed its well-known routine and surprised by its powerful climb directly after take-off, but this time it was powered by the new "Engine Alliance" GP7200 engines. The display was shown twice on Tuesday, once for the opening ceremony and then again later in the afternoon, and on the following day, before the aircraft left the show after two days of attendance.
The Antonov An148 flew on the first day as well to demonstrate the strong ties between Antonov and China.
A rare appearance in the air was furthermore made by the Sikorsky S92 in the "China Southern" airline livery. It was presented as this type is new in their fleet additionally to the already existing S76 helicopters.
Unfortunately after only a short fly-over it disappeared fenced-off in the static display area, where some other nice aircraft were parked as well, which would have looked very well in the flight display as well:
Summarizing Zhuhai was a most interesting event, which stood out more by quality than by the (hoped-for) quantity. Unfortunately the expectations were maybe risen a bit too much when announcing the participants, but nevertheless it has been an easy accessible event that enabled the visitor to get a glimpse at many very rare items that as such can be seen nowhere else.
With the rise of China's aviation industry it remains to be seen how the international participation will develop at the next event in 2012.
To conclude this iis a short overview of the civil movements (as well as some military B737s) during the showdays, unfortuantely obstructed by very hazy air and backlit conditions:Thank you for rating this article.