Twin-seat FC-1B/JF-17B makes maiden flight

The twin-seat fighter-trainer variant of the Chengdu FC-1 Xiaolong successful completed its maiden flight on 27 April.

The FC-1 Xiaolong, currently serving with the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) as the JF-17 Thunder, is a single-engine, multirole fighter aircraft first introduced in 2003. However, the aircraft can trace its origin to the Super-7, a failed Sino-US cooperation project amid to radically upgrade the Chengdu J-7 (MiG-21F) fighter. Following the withdrawal of the US partner, Chengdu continued the development programme under Russian assistance, and later formed a partnership with the Pakistani Aeronautical Complex (PAC) to jointly develop the aircraft as a low-cost fighter solution for the PAF.

The joint development contract between Chengdu and PAC was signed in 1999, and the maiden flight of the aircraft, now renamed the FC-1, took place in August 2003. The initial production of the aircraft for the PAF under the designation of the Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder began sometime in 2006, and the aircraft entered service with the PAF in 2007. Chengdu was responsible for building the airframe and providing its weapon suite. Russia supplied its RD-93 turbofan engine to power the aircraft. Some Western contractors supplied avionics and other equipment.

The JF-17 production has been gradually shifted from Chengdu to PAC, with 50 examples in the Block 1 configuration and 33 examples in the improved Block 2 configuration built as of the end of 2016. PAC is also planning to build the further improved Block 3 variant in the future. The aircraft has achieved some success in the export market, with small orders reportedly received from Nigeria and Myanmar.

During the 2013 Paris Air Show, Chengdu first revealed the twin-seat variant of the FC-1/JF-17, and the engineering development of the aircraft began in November 2015. Other than having an additional seat, the twin-seat variant of the aircraft differs to the single-eat variant in its larger swept-back vertical stabiliser and a deeper dorsal spine for additional fuel and avionics. The aircraft also reportedly features a more advanced 3-axis fly-by-wire (FBW) control replacing the original analogue system.

The twin-seat FC-1B/JF-17B has been developed at the request of the PAF to provide much needed training capability for its JF-17 pilots. However, like its single-seat predecessor, the aircraft won’t be acquired by the PLA, which has already ordered designs with similar performance such as the Guizhou JL-9 and Hongdu JL-10.

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