While there has been no official announcement, cell phone photos coming out of China show several of the new Y-9 four-engine turboprop transports flying with Chinese Air Force paint jobs. This was not unexpected, as last year it was noted that long-delayed flight testing of the Y-9 transport had begun. This comes after years of starting and then stopping development of this four engine aircraft, similar to the American C-130.
It was three 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 government, and Chinese Air Force, apparently decided that now was the time for China to have a competitor for the American C-130.
The Y-9 is a 77 ton, Chinese designed, aircraft that 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 (during 1957-73), compared to about a hundred 100 Y-8s (which began production in 1981). Over 2,300 C-130s have been built so far and is very popular with many military and civilian users.
China wants to reduce its dependence on Russia for transport aircraft and has noted the success of the latest version of the C-130 and 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 latest model, 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. This is apparently what China has done with the Y-9, which is aimed at military and civilian users.