China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) will soon take delivery of production variants of the Guizhou Aviation Aircraft Corporation Xianglong (Soaring Dragon) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported on 6 December.
The Xianglong is a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV and the report suggests that China is striving to acquire the level of capability that the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk delivers to US armed forces.
The wings of the Xianglong are very distinctive, with a swept forward wing behind and higher than the main conventional swept back wing. The tips of the aft wing are joined to the main wing about half-way along its span, creating a highly recognisable diamond shape when viewed from above or below.
A model of the Xianglong was exhibited at the 2006 Airshow China, but the UAV disappeared from view until 2011 when a prototype was photographed at what is probably the Wenjiang airfield in Chengdu. Since then a number of significant changes have been made from the initial design concept.
Although the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute (611 Design Institute) has likely taken the design lead, production of the UAV is being undertaken by the Guizhou Aviation Aircraft Corporation, which is part of the state-run Aviation Industry of China (AVIC).
Photographs emerged in July, which showed two UAVs being assembled in the same facility the JL-9/FTC-2000 fast jet trainers are being built. This is most likely the company's Yunma facility in Anshun, where satellite imagery showed four of the Xianglong UAVs on the tarmac in August.
No official data has been released on the UAV's performance, but IHS Jane's All the World's Aircraft: Unmanned indicates that it has a wing span of 23 m, a cruising speed around 400 kt, an operating altitude of 18,000 m, and a range approaching 4,000 n miles.
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