Thursday, January 31, 2013

China steals another foreign aircraft design

Readers are probably familiar with reports that China's 'new' Xian Y-20 transport aircraft (shown below) has just conducted its maiden flight.

The aircraft is clearly very similar in many respects to the Soviet Ilyushin Il-76 transport (shown below), dating back to the 1970s (it uses the same engines as early models of the Il-76, and its claimed performance figures are very close to those of the earlier design).  China currently operates about 30 Il-76's, and has more on order.

It's also very similar in some aspects to the Boeing C-17 transport (shown below - note particularly the tailplane and top of the fin, and compare them to the Y-20 above).  A Chinese engineer was convicted of espionage in 2009 for, among other crimes, stealing details of the C-17's design.

Here's a video report on the maiden flight of the Y-20.

Yep.  That's yet another copycat design.  China's current economic and military progress is, to a very large extent, dependent on stealing other countries' designs and systems, and copying them.  It doesn't speak well of that country's capability for innovation and original ideas.  Nevertheless, the Xian Y-20 is an important element in China's modernization of its military forces, and - when in mass production and service - will offer that country an indigenous strategic airlift capability.



Murphy's Law said...

China has to copy and steal, because because almost Chinese smart enough to be a designer or engineer is working as one here in America now, making lots of money. When you refuse to recognize achievement and chase your best and your brightest away, you can't really be surprised when they wind up across the street in competition with you.

Differ said...

Probably some espionage, but also a lsome function of design compromises: aerodynamics, role, materials and a host of other items which must be optimized for an airlifter tend towards aircraft which look a lot like one another (a bit like cars today)so I think it foolish to dismiss their abilities....

bmq215 said...

I hate to say it, but if China is copying and stealing designs they're smart to do so. Why waste money reinventing the wheel? Let the US throw money at programs like the F-22, F-35, and V-22. Then just copy what works and bypass the rest.

Ethically ambiguous it may be, but it's efficient and in the end it's the latter that wins wars.

Scott said...

I will be more impressed when the Chinese engines reach the reliability levels of the Russian designs. You know, roughly 250 (two hundred fifty) hours Time Between Overhauls.

And I will be far more impressed when Chinese engines reach the reliability of Western designs, 2500 (two thousand five hundred) hours time between overhauls.

Anonymous said...

Most designs will be similar because of the laws of flight. Ground support aircraft tend to look alike as do air superiority fighters. Gone are the days of the FW 190, P-38, and I-16.

The materials are too much alike, so the differences become avionics and weapons systems rather than the airframe.

Anonymous said...

I think you are mistaken... governments sell technology to each other - China is a recipient of that West-East flow of military technology. its common, that is why similar systems are basically alike - the Arrow is based on US SDI and Soviet S-300 technology and the Yakolev 141 provided a lot of technical and technological know-how to the JF-35 program. Governments may seem antagonistic on the surface, but below that, there is a lot of inter-governmental cooperation that is going on. That is good, but it needs to be made transparent and regulated so people don't say - copycat without knowing how much technology transfer took place and not running to "top secret" road blocks. In fact South Africa's Aparthied arms embargo did not stop Western firms from providing it with technology.

I agree there seems to be some copy-cat espionage; the Y-20 does seem to share two similar elements to the Boeing C-17 - the supercritical wings and the tail the rest seems to "look" like the Illuyshin II-76 or more like the modernized II 476. However its questionable if the same features as the C-17 such as the advanced flight control system and the supercritical wing - looking closely at the wing, some elements do resemble the C-17's other's don't especially considering the Russian engines are less powerful and probably don't have sophisticated digital management its unlikely that this plane is any better than the II-76. Besides that point, some aerodynamic features do seem based on the Russian and better yet Ukranian experience building supercritical wings were in a very different context for their transport and passenger aircraft - equally some of the wing elements resemble the An-70 strangely enough which also had a supercritical wing but built for very different purposes.

The C-17 is a highly flexible aircraft - the Y-20 doesn't seem to be that.