New Domestically Produced Engines for China’s J-20 still aren’t World Class

By | Mar 20, 2017 10:06 PM EDT
Not stealthy

J-20s show-off. (Photo : PLAAF)

New Chinese-made afterburning turbofan engines intended to power China's Chengdu J-20 low observable fighter might not be significantly superior in performance to the jet's current Russian-made engines.

The Aero Engine Corporation of China (AECC) is developing the new power plant and claims the engines will "soon" power the J-20, but gave no indication of a time frame. Remarks by a senior scientist working for the company, however, are raising questions about the new engine's qualifications, especially its thrust-to-weight ratio.

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The thrust-to-weight ratio is a key indicator of a jet engine's capability, and with wing loading is the most important parameter in determining the performance of an aircraft.

"The engine's development is proceeding well. We also have begun to design a next-generation aviation engine with a thrust-to-weight ratio that is much higher than that of current types," said Chen Xiangbao, vice-president of the AECC Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials and also a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

"It will not take a long time for our fifth-generation combat plane to have China-made engines."

Chen, however, indirectly let slip the new engines aren't world class by indicating they've begun designing a next generation turbofan. He also said China isn't on par with the five countries led by the United States and Russia in the production of advanced turbofans for military jets.

Chen said Chinese scientists and engineers are striving to catch up to the world's top players in terms of research and development into cutting-edge aviation engines. He noted China still has a long way to go before it can develop and produce world-class engines.

"For instance, we are able to develop the two most important components in an advanced engine -- single crystal superalloy turbine blades and powder metallurgy superalloy turbine disks -- but in mass production, the products' quality is not very satisfactory," said Chen.

Making reliable engines is a matter of time and persistence, he pointed out.

"The road to success is filled with setbacks and failures. Each of the world's engine powers has walked this road," noted Chen.

Aircraft engine-making remains one of the few fields in which China still lags behind top players like the United States and Russia, admitted Yin Zeyong, head of AECC's science and technology commission.

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