China unveils “world’s largest amphibious aircraft”

AVIC rolls out the AG600, the largest amphibious aircraft in the world.

AVIC rolls out the AG600, the largest amphibious aircraft in the world.

Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC, China’s state-owned aerospace conglomerate) completed production of “the world’s largest amphibious aircraft.”

Before we go further, yes, the Howard Hughes “Spruce Goose” was larger. Much larger. But it only ever flew once, and that flight was only about 1.5 km long and at a maximum altitude of 20m – never climbing out of ground effect (see the video at the end of this post). The Spruce Goose has long since been consigned to a museum, whereas the AG600, as the new Chinese aircraft is called, is intended for serial production and regular use – AVIC reportedly has seventeen orders so far.

What kind of use? China appears to view it as a multi-role transport, to be used in fire-fighting, marine rescue, environmental monitoring, and resource detection and transport.  And also, as is made clear in the first video below, to provide aerial support for the country’s political ambition in the South China Sea. According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, the AG600 “could potentially extend the Asian giant’s ability to conduct a variety of operations in the South China Sea, where it has built a series of artificial islands featuring air strips, among other infrastructure with the potential for either civilian or military use.”

This amphibious transport, scheduled for first flight before year-end, is just one of four Chinese aircraft projects to come to fruition in recent months, as the country works toward developing a modern aircraft manufacturing industry. The other three are:

  • The ARJ21 (Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century) recently entered commercial service with launch customer Chengdu Airlines.
  • The COMAC C919, a 168-passenger narrowbody, was rolled out last November, and is scheduled for first flight this year.
  • The Y-20, a 66 tonne payload heavy transport, entered service with China’s military in early July.

And now, as promised, here is the official video of the rollout of the AG600 amphibious transport.

And, for the aviation history buffs, the first flight of the Spruce Goose.

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