The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force open-day event and the Changchun Aviation Exhibition kicked off in Changchun, Northeast China's Jilin Province, on Wednesday, with 45 aircraft of 13 types delivering a spectacular visual show to the audience, many of whom said they could feel the atmosphere of combat and the PLA Air Force's readiness and vigilance in safeguarding the country's skies.
During the flight performances that came shortly after an opening ceremony, a YU-20 aerial tanker, two J-20 stealth fighter jets and two J-16 heavy fighter jets formed a formation and flew low above the audience, winning applause from the crowd, who for the first time had the chance to witness such a scene with their own eyes.
Closely followed by the fighter jets, the YU-20 released two aerial refueling drogues as the formation took an in-flight refueling configuration.
Such a configuration was displayed for the first time at 2022's Air Force open-day event, but only through a photo. According to reports, China's new-generation YU-20 aerial tanker has accomplished several in-flight refueling exercises above the sea together with multiple types of aircraft including the J-20 and the J-16.
In August 2022, the PLA Air Force revealed that the YU-20 participated in a China-Russia strategic aerial patrol at the time, in which the aerial tanker provided in-flight refueling for a J-16 fighter jet.
As a type of multi-functional tanker aircraft, the YU-20 has multiple refuel points. Each refueling can potentially increase the combat radius of receiving aircraft by 30 to 35 percent, significantly boosting the long-range operability of PLA Air Force warplanes and contributing to the development of the PLA Air Force's long-range precision strike capabilities.
The J-20, a domestically developed new-generation stealth fighter jet, remained the star of the show throughout the entire flight performance.
In recent years, a number of J-20s have been gradually commissioned into the combat units of the PLA Air Force, boosting the latter's comprehensive combat capabilities and contributing to its sacred duty of safeguarding national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.
As the flight performance went on, the J-20s formed a four-aircraft diamond formation, performed straight-up ascends, fast turns as well as a four-aircraft tactical fly-through in opposite directions, which is considered a very challenging maneuver in flight performances.
The flight performance by the J-20s is combat-oriented and precise, Zhang Xuefeng, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times at the event after seeing the show.
Zhang said that the J-20s' moves were not only thrilling to watch, but also very practical. They allow the aircraft to turn in other directions fast while not losing much energy, and this means that the fighter jet can change the direction its weapons are pointing at very flexibly during maneuvers, enabling it to launch attacks before the enemy.
A surprise at the event came as two types of aircraft in the "20 family" soared through the sky, a YU-20 escorted by four J-20s.
The crowd was impressed when the YU-20 flexibly performed an S maneuver despite its bulky fuselage, spiraling left and right 200 meters above the event site like a snake flying through the air.
The YU-20 also demonstrated the release of jamming flares. In a combat environment, fast ascents and turning in a small radius combined with the use of flares can increase the aircraft's survivability from hostile man-portable air defense missiles.
The performance of the YU-20 looked as if the aircraft was a fighter, Zhang said.
Zhang said that he was impressed by the YU-20's Afghan landing maneuver during the flight performance. This maneuver was named after Soviet transport aircraft's landing method in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In this maneuver, aircraft approach the airfield at a high altitude without descending too low, then dives down fast and lands. This method can reduce the time the aircraft flies at low altitude, which can also reduce the chance the aircraft is hit by a hostile man-portable air defense missile.