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With its maiden flight on January 26, 2013, China’s homegrown Y-20 large military transport aircraft embraced its 10th anniversary in the sky on Thursday, marking a milestone in the country’s aviation history.
Increasing the maximum takeoff weight of domestically-developed military aircraft from 60 to 200 tonnes, the Y-20 plays a major role in enhancing China’s strategic military deployment capacity.
High-tech driven new model
The Y-20 is the largest military transport aircraft in service, and it’s much more advanced than previous models.
To achieve the development and production of the Y-20, China made breakthroughs for more than 400 key technologies.
Zhou Han, an experienced Y-20 pilot, told China Media Group (CMG) that “older models like the Y-8 were operated purely mechanically, but our Y-20 aircraft uses a brand-new Fly-by-Wire system, which greatly reduces the control workload while providing better precision. This allows the pilot to put more focus on the mission at hand.”
In early January, several Y-20s, accompanied by China’s YY-20 aerial tankers, took to the sky for a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) drill, the first 2023 flight for the Y-20 model participated by Zhou.
“Strategic deployment capacity is an important indicator of a country’s national defense strength and rapid response capability. The Y-20 is the core equipment to realize long-range and rapid strategic deployment,” Zhou added.
A decade in sky
The Y-20 went into full service in 2016 and conducted many timely deliveries of critical humanitarian supplies all around the world in Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania, including delivery of COVID-19 vaccines overseas.
“The weather over the South Pacific changes very fast, especially at night, which means we faced the threat of thunderstorms. Though we are all debriefed in detail about the weather before the mission, the weather simply changes too fast,” Zhou recalled.
Following its operational success, the Y-20 has also become the base model to design and build more variants.
In late 2022, the YY-20 aerial refueling aircraft, built on the Y-20 platform, made its first public appearance at the 14th Airshow China. With the aerial tanker, the PLAAF’s long-range maneuvering capability has been greatly enhanced.
In the future, the world may see more new types of Y-20 serving a broader range of purposes as its legacy continues into the next ten years.