BEIJING – China's prototype stealth fighter made its first-known test flight Tuesday, marking dramatic progress in the country's efforts to develop cutting-edge military technologies.
The plane dubbed the J-20 flew for about 15 minutes over an airfield in the southwestern city of Chengdu where it was spotted carrying out runway tests last week, Kanwa Asian Defense magazine editor Andrei Chang said.
Photos of the plane in flight and on the ground surrounded by men in civilian clothes and army overcoats were also posted on unofficial Chinese military websites. A J-10 fighter — China's last homegrown jet — flew behind it as a chase plane.
The test flight comes on the second day of a visit to China by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the normally secretive military has made no attempt to hide it or remove photos and reports about the J-20 from the Internet.
The timing and hands-off approach is apparently intended to send the message that Beijing is responding to calls from the U.S. and others to be more transparent about its defense modernization and future intentions.
Although likely many years from entering China's inventory, the J-20 is a potential rival to the U.S. F-22 Raptor, the only stealth fighter currently in service. The U.S. is also employing stealth technology on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, while Russia's Sukhoi T-50's stealth fighter made its maiden flight last year and is set to enter service in about four years.
While a state newspaper reported last week on the plane's appearance, China's government and military have yet to comment officially. People who answered phones at government and Communist Party offices in Chengdu, as well as the plane's developer — the Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group — all refused to comment.