It may not be the prettiest aircraft ever to take to the skies but China’s big amphibious plane has successfully completed its maiden flight.
State-owned Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the AG600, code-named “Kunlong”, flew for about an hour from Jinwan airport in the city of Zhuha on December 24.
A product of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the AG600 has a flying boat hull as well as a retractable undercarriage to allow it to land on both land and water.
It is capable of both civil and military roles and is seen as a strategic player in China’s expansion into the South China Sea.
Other uses include fire fighting, marine observation and search and rescue.
Roughly the size of a Boeing 737, the four-engine turboprop plane has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes with a top speed of 354mph (570kmh) and a range 2970 nautical miles (5000km).
The plane is the biggest amphibious aircraft in production and can carry up to 50 people during search-and-rescue missions or collect 12 tonnes of water in 20 seconds to fight forest fires.
It has at least 17 orders within China but AVIC is also pursuing overseas customers.
The flight was broadcast live on Chinese television and arrived to a flag-waving crowd, water cannon and military band.
It was also applauded by the Chinese leadership as a major breakthrough in developing special purpose aircraft and as the third member of China’s “large aircraft family”.
This includes the Y-20 freighter, which entered service in 2016, and the C919 passenger aircraft, a competitor to the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, which conducted a maiden flight in May this year.
Xinhau said the name Kunlong combined an enormous legendary fish with a dragon.
Chief designer Huang Lincai told the news agency the aircraft’s maiden flight made China one of the few countries capable of developing a large amphibious aircraft.