Back in the 1970's China designed the large Harbin SH-5 amphibious maritime patrol aircraft. Only one prototype and six production aircraft were built.
With China's increased activities in the South China Sea, and the need for additional water-bombing aircraft to deal with forest fires, the country embarked on an ambitious design project for an even larger amphibious aircraft. The prototype of the Avic TA-600 (also known as the AG-600) has just rolled off the assembly line. Yahoo News reports:
The AG600, which is about the size of a Boeing 737 and was developed by state aircraft maker Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), rolled off a production line in the southern city of Zhuhai on Saturday, Xinhua said quoting the firm.
AVIC deputy general manager, Geng Rugang, said the plane was "the latest breakthrough in China's aviation industry." A plan for the development and production of the AG600 received government approval in 2009.
The aircraft has a maximum flight range of 4,500 km and can collect 12 tonnes of water in 20 seconds. It has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes, Xinhua said.
There's more at the link.
The new plane hasn't flown yet, but already China is making big plans for it. Here's a promotional video from that country.
I'm not sure of its utility in firefighting, given its very large size. That's not a problem in the air, of course, but if it needs to land on water to refill its tanks, it's probably going to need a pretty long stretch of unobstructed, smooth water to do so - much longer than a smaller, lighter water-bomber would need. Still, I daresay the Chinese authorities have made allowance for that. What's more, 14 Chinese pilots have already completed water-bomber flight training in the USA.
The Coulson Group that owns two huge Martin Mars flying boat air tankers trained 14 Chinese test pilots last year who will be the first to fly the AG-600. The training included ground, water taxi, flight, scooping, and dropping water. The trainee pilots went through classroom and hands on training using Coulson’s Hawaii Martin Mars, actually taxiing and flying the huge flying boat.
Again, more at the link. You can also read more about the pilots' training here.
It looks as if China's really serious about getting this plane into production. I'll be watching further developments with interest.