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Pics: China now flying new carrier-based stealth fighter months after being spotted at test facility

Shenyang J-31 (F60) at the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show. (WC, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
November 02, 2021

China’s newest carrier-borne stealth fighter, ostensibly dubbed the J-35, saw its first flight on Wednesday at a recent air show. The carrier-borne fighter made its first public flight after it was spotted in June on board a mock Chinese aircraft carrier that has served as a kay test facility in the city of Wuhan.

The Chinese fighter has no official designation but has been variously referred to as the J-35, J-31 and the FC-31 and has been dubbed the Gyrfalcon. Photographs of the new fighter jet first appeared on Weibo and subsequently made their way on to Twitter.

A photo of the new aircraft shows what appears to be a catapult launch bar on the nose landing gear and possibly hinges on the wings that would allow them to be folded for compact storage on an aircraft carrier. Both features are indicators of the aircraft’s likely intended role as a carrier-borne fighter jet.

One Twitter user tweeted, “Warmly celebrate the successful maiden flight of the Carrier-borne stealth fighter J-35 of the Chinese Navy. (Images via wb/T旺旺T)” with additional photos of the aircraft in flight.

The new stealth fighter’s public flight comes about four and a half months after it was spotted at a Chinese military test facility in Wuhan. The facility has, for years, been seen as a key test site where under-development aircraft and ships have been seen before ending up in the Chinese military’s service. Defense News reported mock-ups of the Type 002 and 003 aircraft carriers, 055 cruiser, the Shenyang J-15 fighter jet and Xian KJ-600 airborne early warning aircraft have previously appeared at the Wuhan site, before going into service or continuing through their development process.

Defense News reported the FC-31 was developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation independent of any specific Chinese military aircraft project and had its first successful flight in 2012. Following the successful flight, the FC-31 was marketed for foreign sales but was unsuccessful in winning any foreign contracts. Defense News reported the aircraft has been rumored to have been selected for Chinese military use as a fighter jet reconfigured for use on its new aircraft carriers. In 2016 the aircraft was reportedly fitted with a new and significantly altered airframe and set for new test flights.

In addition to the new carrier-borne fighter, The Aviationist reported the newest variant of China’s Chengdu J-20 fighter jet also took flight at the recent airshow. The new variant, which has been referred to both as the J-20B and J-20S, is a two-seat version of the fighter.

The Aviationist reported the new J-20 variant is the first-ever twin-seat stealth fighter jet. The addition of a second crew member could be useful for managing added onboard sensors as well as controlling accompanying unmanned aerial vehicles. The U.S. has begun working on similar “Loyal Wingman” combat UAVs to fly alongside manned fighter jets.

Another Twitter user and self-described Chinese military aviation researcher tweeted photos of the new J-20 variant on a runway last week. “It is indeed real … so, say HELLO to the world‘s first twin-seater stealth fighter. These are the first clear images of the J-20 twin-seater, so far called J-20S, J-20AS or even J-20B Even if its true designation is not yet known. (Image via wb/飞扬军事铁背心).”