The Chengdu J-9, a rather unique interceptor fighter, was researched and developed by the Chengdu Aviation Industry Corporation in the 1960s.
The program was canceled in 1980 due to difficulties with domestic WS-6 engines and the influence of the Cultural Revolution. However, the experience from the development of the J-9, especially the canard-delta layout, helped the Chinese engineers gain many valuable lessons that were later successfully applied on the Chengdu J-10.
In the early 1960s China’s People’s Liberation Army found itself unable to acquire modern fighter aircraft with third generation capabilities, and thus risked imminently losing parity with the United States and Soviet Union – with the former developing the F-4E and F-5E while the latter worked on the MiG-23 and MiG-25. The PLA initiated two third generation fighter programs – the Shenyang J-8 and Chengdu J-9.
It should be noted that, by the time China developed the J-9, the United States had put into service its first fourth-generation fighter, the F-14 Tomcat. The J-9 was designed with a canard delta wing design and a completely new airframe with a single engine configuration. The fighter’s specifications were highly ambitious – requiring speeds of Mach 2.4 and altitudes of 20km.
To achieve high speeds and altitudes the J-9 was to be equipped with a Shenyang WS-6 turbofan engine – also a highly ambitious design with 27,000Ib of afterburning thrust. The engine was comparable to that of the Pratt & Whitney F100 which powered the American F-16 and F-15 fighters of the fourth generation and considerably more powerful that the M88 which powers the French Rafale fighters today.
The Cultural Revolution stalled China’s development of its military aviation considerably, affecting both the J-9 program. Difficulties producing the WS-6 engine in particular made development of the aircraft extremely difficult. The parallel J-8 interceptor program, a far simpler and less ambitious aircraft making use of twin Wopen-7A turbojet engines – closely derived from those of the MiG-21, and using an airframe which appeared to apply the same concept as the J-7 only on an enlarged scale, thus became the PLA’s only third generation jet designed for air to air combat.
Despite the failure, the experiences from the J-9 project were applied on the later J-10. The J-10 was heavily inspired by the J-9 program, and inherited its canard delta wing design. The canard delta wing design would also be applied to the Chengdu J-20, the world’s first fifth generation fighter developed outside the United States, and its entry into service would become a landmark in the development of Chinese military aviation.