The chief designer of China's domestically developed large transport plane, the Y-20, confirmed the aircraft could be spawned into several types of variants, with military experts expecting to see the original's doppelganger in 2019.
"The Y-20 can serve as a general platform from which a variety of variants can be derived," Tang Changhong, a Chinese political advisor and chief designer of the Y-20, said at a Thursday press conference featuring Chinese legislators and political advisors in the aviation field, China Aviation News reported Friday.
It is now "playing its role as a [variant-spawning] platform as planned," Tang said, without elaborating on the form or function a Y-20 variant might take.
Tang's remarks came amid reports and predictions made by military experts since 2018 saying that China is developing Y-20 variants, including an aerial tanker and a early warning aircraft.
Feng Wei, a Chinese legislator and Y-20 pilot, said "it will be refreshing to see the Y-20 this year and people won't be disappointed," news portal vos.com.cn reported on March 5.
An anonymous military expert told the Global Times on Tuesday this could mean that one or more Y-20 variants could make their debut this year.
With a takeoff weight of 200 tons, the Y-20 can carry more fuel or equipment than any other domestically made aircraft, and can stay aloft for extended periods, making it a great basic platform for tanker and early warning aircraft, the expert said, noting that other possible variants may include a mobile hospital and an electronic warfare aircraft.
The Y-20 might also replace its current Russian engines with domestically made WS-20 engines in 2019, the expert predicted.
The military aircraft began service in the People's Liberation Army Air Force in 2016, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
"The Y-20 has now entered the formal mass production stage, and intensive regular training with the military is going according to plan," Tang said.