A model of China’s Shenyang FC-31 Gyrfalcon, a stealth fighter jet under development with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has been photographed at a Chinese carrier aircraft test facility this week, indicating its potential as China’s next carrier-borne fighter jet.
The French publication East Pendulum tweeted, “At #Wuhan, on the Institute 701’s aircraft carrier electromagnetic evaluation platform at 1: 1 scale, the FC-31 model (??) is now visible.”
The uncorroborated photo purports to show a Chinese aircraft mock-up believed to be the FC-31 fighter jet aboard a concrete mock-up of a Chinese aircraft carrier.
Forbes reported the mock-up fighter jet was photographed at a Chinese facility in Wuhan that is known to builds mock-ups of new ship designs in order to test different sensor layouts. The facility reportedly has a mock-up of its Type 055 destroyer/cruise as well as a copy of parts of China’s Type 003 aircraft carrier concept. China’s Type 003 carrier is the first planned aircraft-carrier design to use a catapult aircraft launch system instead of the ski-jump style ramp of its first two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong.
The first real-life Chinese Type 003 aircraft carrier is currently being built at a shipyard in Shanghai.
Defence News reported the FC-31 was developed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation independent from 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.
Defence News reported the aircraft has been rumoured to have been selected for Chinese military use as a fighter jet outfitted 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.
The appearance of the mock-up fighter jet on the mock-up aircraft carrier is an indicator that the FC-31’s new round of development is indeed intended to turn the aircraft model into a viable carrier-borne fighter.
Past mock ships and aircraft have been displayed at the Wuhan military facility, only to materialize into real life ships and aircraft fielded by the Chinese military. 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.
The FC-31 design includes notable stealth features, such as an overall sleek stealth shaping, low-observable intakes and an internal weapons bay, which are all intended to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross-section to help it evade detection.
Forbes reported the FC-31 could serve as a smaller, lighter and potentially cheaper stealth fighter option than the J-20 fighter jet – China’s only successful stealth fighter to date.