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July 6, 2020

China’s Spruce Goose Takes Flight

China has Successfully Tested the World’s Largest Seaplane

The Chinese recently oversaw the first successful waterborne takeoff of the country’s AG600, also known as “Kunlong” – now the largest seaplane in production on the planet. The test run took place in the Yellow Sea. Chinese state-run media released a video of the massive plane taking off from, and landing on, the water. The plane was airborne for about a half an hour.

 

China’s first seaplane

The AG600 is just one part of a larger effort on the part of the Chinese to ramp up the production of various types of jet aircraft. The country has dramatically expanded the scale and scope of both its commercial and military aircraft production. The effort to develop the Kunlong, in particular, began in 2009, and the fully developed plane first flew (from a land-based airstrip) in 2017.

 

An enormous plane

The AG600 is roughly the same size as a Boeing 737, has a wingspan of 128 feet and is 121 feet long. It can carry 50 civilian passengers or troops up to 2,7000 miles, and it is almost 40 feet tall. It can be loaded to a weight of up to 53.5 tons and still be able to take off from water.

 

Non-military and military applications

While the Chinese state-run media has emphasized the Kunlong’s non-military applications, such as being used in rescue situations involving civilian aircraft, it will most likely be used for military purposes as well. When it comes to civilian applications, it can be used to fight fires, and it has the capacity of collecting 20 tons of water in only 12 seconds.

The AG600 will likely be used by the military to fly from the Chinese mainland to the country’s island bases in the South China Sea. The airframe is already capable of operating ISR missions as well as waterborne and island-based troop transport work.

While the AG600 is currently unarmed, this could also change in the future. The plane could be utilized for anti-submarine warfare by first dropping sonobuoys into the water to detect enemy subs followed by depth charges if contact is registered. Finally, with its robust carrying capacity, the AG600 could also be used very effectively to mine harbors.

The plane will be useful to the Chinese military as it seeks to expand its influence in both the Indian and Pacific oceans. While the Chinese military has traditionally emphasized the development of its land-based forces, in recent years it has turned their attention to improving and expanding its Naval forces.

 

Seaplanes in warfare

While seaplanes were used effectively in the Second World War by a number of major military powers, they became less popular with air forces during the Cold War, and their role was largely taken over by a combination of land-based aircraft and helicopters. The United States military does not currently use seaplanes, and some argue that it should resume doing so once again. They point out that, during the Second World War, not only were seaplanes used for rescue and convoy work, they sometimes flew attack missions as well.

 

A small group of nations

China now joins Canada, Russia, and Japan as the only countries that produce seaplanes. Canada produces the Viking seaplane, Russia makes the Beriev Be-200 and Japan has the US-2.

 

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