Feature: Decoding China's Home-Developed Drone Wing Loong
(Source: Xinhua news service; published Dec 07, 2016)
by Hu Tao
BEIJING --- China is gearing up to strengthen its role in global aviation with the drone industry taking off.

Chengdu Aircraft Design & Research Institute (CADI), a subsidiary of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) in southwest China's Sichuan Province, has gained the world's attention with its Wing Loong Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).

"Each generation of aviation people have their time-honored missions. Our predecessors raced to catch up with the pace of the global aviation industry, and today we are more ambitious and confident than ever before," said Li Yidong, vice chief designer of CADI and chief designer of the Wing Loong UAS series.

"The UAS industry could be a turning point for China's aviation industry. Such is the potential of the system that it could define the future of our aviation industry," he said at an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

The Wing Loong UAS has staged at the world arena and gained a fame for China's UAS industry in the global market. Xinhua journalist had an exclusive interview with its developing team at its cradle of the CADI, a low-profile yet top-level research & development institute dedicated to leading-edge aerospace technologies.


The lineup of China's indigenously-developed Wing Loong UAS series, -- Wing Loong I, Wing Loong ID, and Wing Loong II -- with their carried payloads, made the public debut to the world at the recent 2016 China Airshow, in November in south China' s Zhuhai.

In fact, the streamlined and lightweight Wing Loong UAS has earned great reputation and market share around the world by virtue of its leading technologies and reliable performance.

Wing Loong UAS is a member of the "Loong (Dragon) Family" aircraft developed by the renowned CADI. Its stablemates include the Storm Dragon J-10 fighter and Thunder JF-17 figter (jointly developed with Pakistan).

The prestige of Wing Loong UAS has set the cornerstone for China to tap into global military drone market.

Integrated with hunter and reconnaissance capabilities, the swift and slim Wing Loong UAS is worthy of its reputation by serving in a variety of fields. "It is a pioneer in wartime and a scout in peacetime," said Li.

It is a cost-effective, easy-to-operating, multi-purpose and long-endurance hunter-reconnaissance UAS. Wing Loong could serve military, police and civilian purposes including reconnaissance, surveillance and strike.

"Hunter-reconnaissance UASs like Wing Loong enables prompt identification and attack on fleeting targets which are sensitive to time. This sort of capability is not available for previous UASs or even manned aircraft," said Li.

This long-endurance UAS allows China to better its capabilities of persistent surveillance and control over many areas, especially the 24/7 watch and scout of interested and stake-holding areas.

For the global users, this adaptable UAS with multiple payloads can not only improve their operational systems, but also make contributions in such field as search-and-rescue as well as patrol.

"Wing Loong UAS series have already secured a firm foothold for China in the global cutting-edge UAS market," said Li.


"Our development team with more than one hundred members has built up the confidence by finding out China' s own way of developing the UAS. We have gained orders from home and abroad and the market response is even better than our expectation," said Li.

Since its kick-off in 2005, Wing Loong UAS program has been upgraded to the second generation in the past decade.

Wing Loong I UAS has a length of 9 meters, height of 2.7 meters and wing span of 14 meters. Its maximum flight speed is 280 km per hour, with a maximum payload of 200 kg and endurance of about 20 hours.

Wing Loong I has established a good reputation among customers at home and abroad since it hit the market six years ago. Wing Loong I UAS has gained orders from multiple countries and has been on active service for the Chinese People's Liberation Army(PLA).

The upgraded-version Wing Loong II UAS is 11 meters long, 4.1 meters high, with a wing span of 20.5 meters. Its maximum flight altitude reaches 9,000 meters and maximum flight speed is 370 km per hour, with a loiter time of 20 hours and maximum payload of 480kg.

It is enhanced comprehensively in terms of platform performance and strike & reconnaissance capabilities. Its larger and better platform makes stronger propulsion and higher performance possible. It also has the increased payload capacity and carrying capability.

"Taking a look at the global military drones, Wing Loong II is equivalent to the MQ-9 Reaper of the U.S., ranking the first level of the global UAS products," said Li.

Owing to the fine brand reputation of Wing Loong series, the Wing Loong II has winned the favor of users and gained the largest order of all China-developed UAS in the global market.


"The cutting-edge technologies of Chinese UASs, especially those of military-use UASs, have been leading across the globe and catering for both military and civilian needs in markets home and abroad. In this regard, we are full of confidence of its future," Li added.

In his point of view, the next generation of UAS is still an emerging frontier, where there is endless possibilities.

"UAS will change the landscape of future battlefields. When UAS teams with manned aircraft, it can produce a result which cannot be achieved by either of them alone," Li explained.

"It indicates that UAS will enhance the whole operational system as what was inconceivable in the past can be accomplished by the UAS. From the perspective of operational missions, the manned-unmanned teaming will unfold more operational patterns to fulfill more functions."

As the leader in China's aviation industry, AVIC has attached great importance to the development of the UAS.

Based on decades of continuous efforts, Chinese researchers have systematically mastered the key technologies of UAS in the military and industrial level.

"In fact, more series of UAS are under development, production and planning. We are prepared to be trailblazers in innovation, though formidable challenges lie ahead," said Li.

"Innovation is not a romantic field with roses. We are serving the nation by preparing aviation as a strategic industry. We will spare no efforts to put China at the head of the global UAS field," said Li.


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