Typically, large airplanes have a major difficulty landing if the infrastructure isn’t in good operating condition. Having a nice clean runway to set down at is paramount if you’re delivering a few dozen passengers to a far-flung locale. But the surface of this planet is over 70 percent covered in water. What if you could land a big ass plane on the water instead? China’s got that covered with its new AG600 Kunlong.
AG600 development began back in 2009, and the first unit assembly began five years later. By July of 2016 it was finished, and made its maiden flight from Zhuhai airport in December of 2017. Now, a full 11 years after the plane was drawn up, it has fulfilled its purpose of taking off and landing on water. The flight took place in the Yellow Sea near Qingdao, lasting about half an hour from start to finish. AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China) is hoping to have the plane certified next year with first deliveries beginning in 2022.
To put this plane’s size into context, it’s about the size of a Boeing 737 passenger plane at 39 feet tall, 121 feet long, and a wingspan of 128 feet. The A600 Kunlong is claimed to be capable of hauling as many as 50 passengers up to 2700 miles. The plane has a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 tons. While it has half as many propellers as the Hughes H-4 Hercules did in the 1940s, the Kunlong is more or less half the size of the Goose. The so-called flying lumberyard made use of an octet of 3000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney 28-cylinder radial piston engines, while the Kunlong makes do with a foursome of Ivchenko AI20-based WJ-6 turboprop engines making about 4500 horsepower each.
China describes the Kunlong as a firefighting and search & rescue operations plane. To back up that claim, AVIC says the plane can gather about 12 tons of water in 20 seconds to be used in firefighting operations. The ability to land in water will certainly aid rescue workers as they search for survivors of planes forced to emergency touchdown at sea.
These will almost certainly be used for any number of military applications. For example, China is building a number of man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea territory, including Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross Reef. If such an outpost were to be, um, forcibly decommissioned by an hostile adversary, China would have the ability to resupply the islands without a functional landing strip. The AG600 is an unarmed plane, but according to Popular Mechanics, it could easily be equipped with anti-submarine depth charges and homing torpedoes, or it could be used to drop sea mines in enemy territory.
While Japan, Russia, and Canada currently build seaplanes, China’s new AG600 is by far the largest.