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China flies DART-450-derived military basic trainer aircraft

28 December 2018
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A photograph published in late 2017 of the DART-450 in PLAAF markings gave the first indication that China was planning to develop the aircraft into a military basic trainer. Source: Via Wu Jie

China has flown a new military trainer aircraft derived from the Diamond DART-450 single-engined turboprop, state media disclosed in late 2018.

The flight of the tandem two-seat trainer developed by China Electronics Technology Corporation (CETC) Wuhu Diamond Aircraft Manufacturing Company, was reported to have taken place at the company's facility in Jiangsu Province on 6 November.

Designated the TA-20, the new aircraft is a product of a joint venture (JV) between the CETC and the Wuhu Municipal Government, which builds aircraft on licence from Austria-based Diamond Aircraft Industries. Jane' s first reported in October 2017 that the Diamond Aircraft Reconnaissance Trainer (DART)-450 was being lined up as a possible candidate for development into a military basic trainer aircraft for the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).

The cockpits of the TA-20 are equipped with the Smart-210 avionics system developed indigenously by Chengdu Hermes Technology Company Limited . (Chengdu Hermes Technology Company Limited)The cockpits of the TA-20 are equipped with the Smart-210 avionics system developed indigenously by Chengdu Hermes Technology Company Limited . (Chengdu Hermes Technology Company Limited)

The DART-450 on which the TA-20 is based was developed rapidly by Diamond, with first drawings to first flight taking just one year (the maiden flight was recorded on 17 May 2016). The all-carbon fibre tandem two-seat civilian and military trainer features a sidestick and pneumatic ejection seats. The aircraft has a top-speed of 230 kt, a service ceiling of 23,000 ft (7,010 m), and a maximum endurance of eight hours plus reserve.

While the baseline DART-450 features Garmin G3000 avionics, the TA-20 has been equipped with the Smart-210 system developed indigenously by Chengdu Hermes Technology Company Limited. Imagery posted by the company shows both cockpits to be fitted with a single large-area display touchscreen, suitable for training pilots for fifth-generation platforms such as the J-20. The aircraft's side-stick control column is also similar to that fitted to the J-20.

The PLAAF is engaged in an extensive modernisation and recapitalisation programme that is seeing new combat aircraft introduced in large numbers. Running parallel to this expansion in combat capabilities is an expansion in trainer capabilities, with the GAIC JL-9 Shanying and HAIG JL-10 advanced jet trainers having been received by the PLAAF over recent years.

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