Photo taken in June, 2016 shows two Y-20 planes, China's homegrown large transport aircraft, taxiing to airport runway. Two Y-20 planes officially joined the People's Liberation Army Air Force on July 6, 2016. (Xinhua/Xing Guangli)
The Chinese air force has put its new home-grown heavy transport aircraft through its paces on its maiden flight.
The Y-20 officially entered military service on Wednesday in the southwestern province of Sichuan. The versatile plane has a maximum takeoff weight of around 200 tonnes, and is ideal for carrying cargo and personnel over long distances.
Describing the flight as a historical turning point, Wang Mingzhi, professor with the Air Force Command College, said the Y-20 is the first alternative for the Chinese Air Force to buying transport planes from abroad.
According to Deng Youming, head of Air Force test flight bureau and a test pilot himself, the Y-20 is highly responsive in the air and easy to maneuver.
Compared with older generation aircraft, the Y-20 has more automated systems, which mean both easier operations and higher requirements of pilots, Deng added.
The Air Force has introduced civil aviation flight-training patterns in training Y-20 pilots, and has established a specialist training school for test pilots.
Designed and manufactured by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the Y-20 made its first test flight in January 2013 after five years of development. After years of test flights, the first two Y-20s were delivered to the Air Force last month.
Key to the building of a strategic air force for China, fleets of Y-20 freighters are expected to greatly improve the air force's rapid nonstop reach capability across both theater commands and continents, said Wang.
"It will help the country actively participate in international cooperation, peacekeeping missions and humanitarian missions," Wang added.
Aside from its military function, the developers expect a substantial commercial market for the Y-20 and its variants.
"With advanced technology and forward-looking design, the Y-20 has great potential and advantages for further development," said Zhu Qian, head of AVIC's Large Aircraft Development Office.
For instance, a civilian version of the Y-20 is expected to be used in China's booming logistics and express delivery industries, Zhu added.
"The successful maiden flight of the Y-20 is a new beginning after a long, hard journey for China's aviation industry," said Zhu.