First of all, one of the big rumours that came out speculated Varyag has left Dalian. This rumour was initiated by someone who apparently saw it disappearing on a flight to/from Shanghai. This caused quite a stir on Chinese online forum and SDF. After all, we've been wondering about what PLA was going to do with Varyag. The photographs for Varyag haven't come out as frequently as some of the other major projects. One could guess this indicates the importance of the carrier project or the inconvenient location of Dalian shipyard or the lack of exterior progress. In fact, many of my non-Chinese friends on SDF became interested in PLAN due to Varyag. So, the lack of progress and transparency on this issue has caused much frustration in the past 3 years. This week's speculations brought out some new energy on this. Jeff Head attached a recent photo that seemed to suggest that the island is painted. Some other photos came out later showed Varyag is still in the shipyard, but the island is not painted. So, that would indicate those photos were not taken recently. Either way, the original story that you can spot aircraft carrier with your own eyes from an airliner seemed to be outlandish. And, there hasn't been any photographic evidence to support it since. So at this point, I can only assume that this is a bad rumour.
The other big news that came out recently is the first flight of Prototype 03 of L-15. When 01 first flied, Hongdu said at that time 03 would be the final prototype due to budgetary constraints. We all know I'm not a big fan of L-15, so I'm not exactly as excited about this news as many people are. Here are some pictures:
Due to its lack of importance to PLAAF, the first flight of 03 has received as much transparency as 01 and JF-17 04. Basically, when a product like this do not get interest from PLAAF, the news media tend to have more photo opportunities and more official interviews. It's exciting because we get an unaltered look at these new planes. With the new engine AI-225K-25 and possible requirements of prospective customers, they made some changes from 01 to 03. Here are some pictures that show the differences between 01 and 03
After 03 flied, another interview was done with Hongdu, and I have provided a rough summary below of this article:
- Engine changed from DV-2X to EAI-222, providing a total of 42 kN in thrust with afterburner. The engine with afterburner is still under test, so 03 uses one without afterburner. Prototype 04 and 05 should have afterburners.
- They signed an agreement to assemble the engine in China. Engine availability shouldn't be a major issue.
- Major improvement in quality between 03 and 01. 03's finishing is much better, has less rough edges. It should help with aerodynamics.
- Compared to JL-9, L-15 is in a different generation, it uses turbofan engine with FADEC, has much longer service life, quadriplex FBW and glass cockpit. It gives feel closer to that of a 4th generation fighter jet.
- Much lower cost for flying L-15 than su-27, over 3 times the service life of su-27, so cheaper maintenance cost, lower operating cost (maybe 1/10 that of flankers)
- Talks about possibly using L-15/Yak-130 as attack aircraft to replace A-10/Su-25
- Also talks about converting L-15 into UAV, saying that the FBW of L-15 makes it a possibility. It's always easier to do something based on an existing product rather than a brand new product.
- Talks about making L-15 more stealthy, changes like having a V shaped vertical stabilizers instead of the straight one right now.
That's about it. I'm not really too impressed by it still. I guess L-15 would only prove itself after getting an order from PLAAF.