China's latest combat drone which made its maiden flight this week could become the biggest export item for the Communist giant as it is comparable to the US' Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle, a top official has said.
A prototype of the Wing Loong II conducted a 31-minute test flight from an unidentified airport in northwestern China on Monday, a news release by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China said.
The drone, developed by the corporation's Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute, was controlled by Lei Qiang, a "legendary" test pilot with the People's Liberation Army Air Force who was the first to fly China's J-10 fighter jet, state-run China Daily reported on Wednesday.
Li Yidong, deputy director of the institute and chief designer of the Wing Loong series said the debut of the advanced drone indicates China is ready to put the new-generation reconnaissance/strike unmanned aerial vehicle on the international market.
Li said Wing Loong II is China's first drone to be propelled by a turboprop engine.
Due to the good reputation of the Wing Loong I, Wing Loong II received the largest contract ever for a Chinese-made export-version drone, he said without elaborating.
Compared with Wing Loong I, the new drone has an optimised aerodynamic design, an improved airframe and upgraded airborne systems, featuring better capabilities in terms of flight, payload and information capacity, according to the AVIC.
Wing Loong II has a length of 11 meters and a wingspan of 20.5 meters. It can stay airborne for 20 hours and has a maximum speed of 370 kms per hour, China Daily's report said.
The larger-sized Wing Loong II is able of carrying up to 12 laser-guided bombs or missiles with a total weight of 480 kilogrammes.
By contrast, Wing Loong I can carry only two bombs or missiles with a combined weight of 100 kg.
Li claimed Wing Loong II is one of the world's best combat drones along with the US' General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer drone often deemed by Western analysts as the best of its kind.
The AVIC unveiled the concept of Wing Loong II at the Aviation Expo China in Beijing in September 2015, while a prototype was displayed to the public at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, in November last year.
The design of the unmanned aircraft was based on its predecessor, Wing Loong I. Wing Loong I has been sold to countries in Africa and the Middle East including Nigeria, Egypt and the UAE at an estimated $1 million per unit, the daily quoted foreign media reports.
Wang Yangzhu, president of Beihang University's Unmanned System Institute, told China Daily yesterday that he believes the Wing Loong II has an operational radius of 1,500 km and that it is equipped with a satellite communications system.
"If the drone is as good as the AVIC says it is, then I believe it will be very competitive in the international market," Wang said.