The state-owned aerospace and defence company Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) has announced the maiden flight of its latest medium altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (MALE UAV) called the Wing Loong-1E.
The prototype Wing Loong-1E – which the company claims to be fully constructed from lightweight composite materials – took off from an undisclosed location on 18 January and completed a test flight that lasted around 22 minutes to assess its on-board systems without mishap, the company stated on its official WeChat account on 23 January.
AVIC did not reveal detailed specifications of the prototype air vehicle, but it appears to be largely similar in terms of size and design with the Wing Loong-1D which the company had earlier test flown on 23 December 2020. However, there were nevertheless still several noticeable features that distinguish the two models, including vertical wingtip winglets and a revised air intake for the propulsion system.
Using the Wing Loong-1D, developed by AVIC’s Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (CADI) subsidiary and to be China’s first all-composite MALE UAV, as a reference, the latest 1E model would likely be around 8.7m in length with a 17.6m wingspan.
The Wing Loong-1D was first revealed to the public at the Airshow China 2018 exhibition in Zhuhai, and features a 330 kg carbon fibre composite airframe supplied by Sichuan Xinwanxing Carbon Fiber Composite Company in the Sichuan province. The air vehicle is claimed to be able to operate for up to 35 hours and reach altitudes of up to 7,500m while carrying up to 400kg of munitions using its four underwing hardpoints.
In comparison with the latest all-composite models, the original Wing Loong I UAV has a conventional aluminium fuselage that measures 9m long and a 14m wingspan and is only able to carry a maximum payload of 200kg. The air vehicle completed its maiden flight in 2007 and is now in service as the Gongji-1 (Attack-1, or GJ-1) with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). It has also found international success with countries such as Egypt, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
AVIC has also developed the larger and more capable Wing Loong II which it unveiled at Airshow China 2016. Featuring a 11m length and 20.5m wingspan with winglets, the Wing Loong II has also entered PLAAF service as the Gongji-2 (Attack-2, or GJ-2).
by Jr Ng