July 27, 2011: China has begun flight testing of its new Y-9 transport. This comes after years of starting, and then stopping, development of this four engine aircraft, similar to the American C-130. It was two years ago that China revived its effort to build the Y-9, but many believed it was just another false start. Not this time. The initial Y-9 design effort began in 2001, but the manufacturer ran into personnel and quality control problems, and put the effort on hold after a few years.
The Y-9 is a 77 ton, Chinese designed, aircraft that is powered by four turboprops. It can carry 25 tons (or nine 108x88 inch/2.7x2.3 meter pallets, or 132 paratroopers.) It has a crew of four, a cruise speed of 650 kilometers an hour, and has a max ferry range of 7,800 kilometers.
The Y-9 is basically a stretched version of the 61 ton Y-8F-200, which is, in turn, a Chinese copy, and upgrade, of the Russian An-12. Like the U.S. C-130, the An-12 was developed in the 1950s, and is still used by civilian cargo haulers all over the world. Some 1,200 An-12s were built (between 1957-73), compared to about a hundred 100 Y-8s (which began production in 1981). Nearly 2,300 C-130s have been built so far.
China wants to reduce its dependence on Russia for transport aircraft, and has noted the success of the latest version of the C-130, the C-130J (a 79 ton aircraft with a crew of three, that can carry 33 tons of cargo, 8 pallets or 92 paratroopers.) The C-130J has a cruise speed of 644 kilometers an hour and max ferry range of 7,400 kilometers. China has operated the civilian version of the C-130 in the past, thus there are Chinese aeronautical experts familiar with the design. For the last half century, few aircraft designs have been wholly original. The best ones took past ideas and recombined them into new designs, using new technology, to produce better aircraft.