A high-definition image shared on Twitter on July 22 shows a prototype of China’s FC-31 stealth fighter, number 350003.
The time and location were not disclosed, but the fighter appears to have been taken at the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation’s test facility.
The photo shows that the FC-31 fighter cockpit glass opens forward and has a hard shield close to the back of the pilot’s seat, similar to the design on the US F-35B model. This is considered a drawback on the F-35B cockpit, because it significantly obstructs the rear view of the pilot, as well as creates the feeling that the cockpit is not seamless with the fuselage.
Lockheed Martin had to choose this device to make room for the propeller lifter behind the cockpit and many separate components on the F-35B variant. “The inability to look directly behind is still one of the most common complaints of F-35B pilots,” said military expert Joseph Trevithick. Trevithick expressed concern about why the Chinese manufacturer chose a design with so many disadvantages, while the FC-31 does not have a short take-off and vertical landing version like the F-35B.
Some Western experts believe that the area behind the FC-31 pilot’s seat could be an additional fuel compartment, helping to increase the range. Fuel maximization is an absolute priority for carrier-based fighters in offshore missions. Trading a pilot’s rear view for more fuel is understandable with such a twin-engine fighter, according to Drive’s Tyler Rogoway.
The photo shows that the FC-31 is fitted with two engines with serrated exhaust rings. Most likely it is the WS-21 engine, also known as WS-13X, developed from the WS-13 model on the JF-17 fighter. China has been researching the WS-13 engine since the 2000s to replace the Klimov RD-93 engine provided by Russia. However, so far, China’s fighter jet engine field has not achieved a breakthrough.
The FC-31, the J-20’s lesser-known cousin. It is believed to be an export and carrier-based variant of the J-31, which first flew in 2012 and attracted attention when it appeared at several Chinese air shows. There haven’t been any foreign purchases of the FC-31. As a result, the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation switched its focus from the international market to trying to make the FC-31 the PLAAF’s newest stealth fighter. The PLAAF hasn’t shown any interest in the FC-31, but there were reports that China’s navy is looking at the FC-31 as an addition to its carrier-based air wings.
The FC-31 is in many ways designed to compete with the US-made F-35 but with some differences. It is slightly larger and has two jet engines to the F-35’s one. The US Navy’s main fighters, the F-35C and the F/A-18E, both have a top speed of Mach 1.6, while the FC-31 is reportedly capable of reaching speeds as fast as Mach 1.8. Currently, the Chinese Ministry of Defense has not commented on information about the design of the FC-31 stealth fighter.