The largest seaplane in the world, a Chinese-built aircraft with a wingspan of more than 128 feet, made an inaugural flight on Sunday about an hour after taking off from the southern city of Zhuhai.
Nicknamed “Kunlong” according to the official news agency China New, the AG600 is equipped with four turboprops and is supposed to stay 12 hours in the air. It can board 50 people.
“This successful inaugural flight makes China one of the few countries in the world capable of building large amphibious aircraft,” Chief Engineer Huang Lingcai told the agency.
The seaplane has military applications but is intended for the fight against wildfires and rescue at sea.
Seventeen copies have been ordered from the state-controlled China Aviation Industry Corporation (CCIA), according to official media reports.
It is about the size of a Boeing 737 and is much larger than any other aircraft designed to land on and off the water, said CCIA deputy general manager Geng Ruguang, quoted by the agency as saying.
The wingspan, however, is considerably smaller than that of the H-4 Hercules, an oversized seaplane designed in the 1940s to transport Allied troops. This aircraft is considered the largest ever built although it flew only once, in 1947.
The AG600 could, because of its capabilities, be used by China in its projects in the disputed maritime sectors of the South China Sea, claimed almost entirely by Beijing.
“Its operational reach of 2,800 miles and its ability to land is conducive to its deployment on Chinese artificial islands,” said James Char, an analyst at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
China is seeking to reduce its dependence on foreign builders like the American Boeing and the European Airbus. Recently, the country announced the successful test of its first commercial medium-haul aircraft.
In June 2016, the Chinese regional aircraft ARJ21 made its first commercial flight, the culmination of an aviation program launched 15 years ago to provide China with a credible aircraft manufacturer.