This Is Why You Don’t Mess With China: The Best Chinese Plane Knockoffs
The Chinese are well known for their loose-relationship with copyright laws. Historically, Chinese products have been considered cheap plastic knock-offs that would break within a day. Recently though, China has been stepping up its game as far as quality goes. The ideas may still not be 100% original but at least they’re usable. As technology advances they have jumped from bootleg cds, movies and plastic crap no one wants to producing high-quality technology such as smartphones and state of the art military planes. Chinese military planes are also very much, ahem… “inspired” by planes used by other countries.
1. The Stolen Falcon Hawk
China’s Falcon Hawk (J-31) is what experts call a copycat of Lockheed’s X-35, the plane that was developed into the F-35 series. Researchers believe that China saved at least 25 years worth of R&D by using stolen classified information from the United States.
If that isn’t bad enough, the Falcon Hawk has started an arms race in the east as India, Korea and Japan race to develop their own fifth-generation stealth fighter jet. China plans on selling their J-31 jet to countries the US won’t sell its F-35 to, like Pakistan.
2. The Spy That Didn’t Get Away
Chinese national Su Bin was imprisoned in the US for stealing military plans. Those plans included blueprints for the US F-35 and F-22 fighter jets. Su Bin sent the information back to Beijing and within an amazingly short period of time, the Chinese military came out with one of their most advanced fighter jets, the Chengdu J-20.
The Chinese stealth plane Chengdu J-20 made its first public appearance in 2016 and the Chinese claim that the planes have already entered initial operation in the air force as of 2017. The one-man plane can supposedly reach speeds up to 1,305 mph and is equipped with stealth design similar to the F-22.
3. A Chinese UFO
A mysterious Chinese UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) was spotted in Changchun in 2011 whose design looks like a complete replica of Boeing’s X-45 UAV. The Chinese have been far behind US UAV capabilities for decades but seem to be catching up fast with stolen technology. The X-45 first took flight in May of 2002 and after developing multiple models successfully concluded test flights in 2005.
The X-45 was developed by the internally funded Phantom Works and the modified X-45C served as the basis for liquid hydrogen-powered unmanned aircraft systems. The X-45 can reach a cruising speed of 613 mph (0.8 Mach) and has a maximum payload of 4,500 lbs.
4. The Flopping Fish
The Shenyang J-15 is produced by Chinese manufacturer Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. The J-15 made its first flight in 2009 and was introduced into the PLA in 2013. The Chinese received an unfinished prototype of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 from Ukraine and after studying it extensively developed the J-15 based on the Su-33.
Russian experts have said that the Chinese version of the aircraft is unlikely to achieve the same performance as that of the Russian original. Critics in China have called the J-15 nothing more than a “flopping fish” due to its inability to carry heavy weapons.
5. Same Same
The Chengdu Pterodactyl UAV looks like a near exact replica of the US MQ-9 Reaper and is being sold as a cheaper alternative to the US predator series. This Chinese UAV has reportedly been sold to Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and allegedly Pakistan. The UAVs were sold at an estimated $1 million per unit.
The Chinese version of this drone was introduced in 2008, seven years after the American version, and carries a payload of 440 lbs. Like its US counterpart, it can be fitted with a variety of radars, sensors, turrets and is capable of carrying weapons.
6. China Claims Superiority
The Chinese media boldly claims that the CH-4 is superior to the American model in every aspect. According to experts, the CH-4 can carry a payload of up to 760 lbs and can clock a flight time of 38 hours with a range of over 2,000 miles.
The Cai Hong-4 is a Chinese UAV designed and developed by state-owned manufacturer China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The Cai Hong-4, in the standard Chinese fashion, very closely mimics the US MQ-1 Predator.
7. The Flying Tiger Imposter
The SVU 200 is an unmanned helicopter manufactured by the Chinese company Sunward and its appearance is very similar to the American Northrop MQ-8 Fire Scout. In specifications though, the Chinese unmanned helicopter pales in comparison to the far superior Fire Scout.
The SVU-200, nicknamed the ‘Flying Tiger,’ carries a max payload of 264 lbs, can reach speeds as fast as 130 mph and has an endurance of 2.6 hours of airtime. The Fire Scout can carry as up to 2,950 lbs payload, has a maximum speed of 160 mph and endure up to 15 hours of flight.
8. Russian Meltdown
Another case of shameless copycatting appears in the Chinese Shenyang J-11 which is identical to the Soviet Sukhoi Su-27. In fact, the planes are so similar that NATO refers to the aircraft as “Flanker” and “Flanker B+.” The production of the Chinese Shenyang J-11 has shaken Chinese-Russian relations.
Russia has announced that they are in talks with the Chinese about the production of weapons Russia says are “unlicensed.” Russia has also expressed concerns over future sales of advanced systems and components to China.
9. The Italian Job
The Hongdu JL-8is a two-seat jet trainer and light attack aircraft “designed” by China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation. The JL-8’s reveal in 1990 left many people scratching their heads and saying that it appears to be just a vintage 1970’s Italian Aermacchi MB-339. The MB-339 is an Italian aircraft that took its first flight in 1976.
The Chinese have built over 500 of the JL-8 since its introduction at around $10 million apiece. The JL-8 reportedly has a maximum speed of 498 mph and has a range of 1,398 miles.
10. The Original Cub
The Chinese medium-range transport aircraft, Shaanxi Y-9, originated from the designs of the Soviet Antonov An-12 (codenamed cub). The Soviet model was introduced in 1959 after making its first flight in 1957. The Y-9, on the other hand, didn’t become operational in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) until 2012, according to Chinese sources.
The Y-9 can transport up to 25 tons of cargo or be configured with 106 seats to transport troops or up to 132 armed paratroopers.
11. Greg the Gallant
Chinese aircraft corporation Xian began developing the Y-20 the exact same year that a Chinese engineer named Dongfan “Greg” Chung was caught spying on Boeing. Chung leaked over 250,000 documents including blueprints for the Boeing C-17 to the Chinese government. According to Chinese sources, the Y-20 can carry more than 200 tons and fly up to 9,400 miles.
The Y-20 is the first heavy airlifter developed in China and only the fourth country in the world to develop such an aircraft after the United States, Russia and Ukraine. In terms of payload, the Y-20 carries slightly less than the C-17 but more than the Russian Ilyushin II-76.
12. Lacking in Performance
The Tianchi drone made its first appearance at Zhuhai International Airshow in 2006 and is reportedly being used by the Chinese Navy. The stealth design of the Tianchi drone is eerily similar to that of the US Global Hawk manufactured by Northrop Grumman. Little is known about the Chinese drone but it is believed to be capable of reaching speeds up to 105 mph and has a payload of over 330 lbs.
Multiple models of the Global Hawk have been developed with payload adjusters, enabling some models to carry a payload of over 3,000 lbs. The Global Hawk can reach speeds up to 391 mph. While the Tianchi BZK-005 may look very similar in design to US models, it doesn’t compare in performance.
13. The “Native” Design
The Comac ARJ-21, also known as the Xiangfeng, was introduced in 2016 after making its first test flight in 2008. Chinese factories that built parts for the US MD-90 went on to build parts for the Chinese model. The Chinese ARJ-21 relies heavily on foreign suppliers, including the United States. Despite its appearance and usage of nearly identical parts, the Chinese claim that the model is a completely native design.
The Douglas DC-9 was introduced in 1965 and was designed for frequent short flights. The DC-9/MD-80/90/171 family of aircraft was discontinued after 41 years and 2,400 units being built.
14. Black Market Black Hawk
The Chinese purchased a civilian model of the Sikorsky UH-60, commonly known as the “Black Hawk,” from Pakistan in the 1980s. The Pakistanis also gave the Chinese access to a non-civilian model of the Black Hawk. Experts say that the Chinese ‘borrowed heavily’ from the US Black Hawk in developing their own Z-10 helicopter.
China first conducted a test flight of the Z-10 in late 2013. Noticeable differences between the designs are a 5-blade rotor, a larger cabin and different landing gears and tail.
15. The Yak
The Chinese Hongdu L-15 is a supersonic trainer and light attack aircraft that is designed very similarly to the Russian Yakovlev Yak-130. The L-15 was reportedly developed with the assistance of Yakovlev OKB which designed the Yak-130. The L-15 made its first flight in 2006 and was introduced into the PLAAF sometime between 2008 and 2010.
Hongdu L-15’s unit cost is approximately $14.6 million whereas the Yak-130 runs an estimated $15 million. The L-15 is primarily used for flight training and advanced combat training.
16. Shengyang J-5 (1956) – MiG 17 (1950)
The Shenyang J-5 is another exact copy of a Soviet jet, this time the MiG-17. The Soviets licensed the jet out to China, Poland and East Germany into the 1960s. The jets were used heavily against the US in the Vietnam War. Around 107 Chinese J-5 jets and 135 FT-5 jets are in use by the North Korean Air Force.
Experts suggest that less than 50% of the North Korean fleet remain airworthy. Over 12,000 J-5 and MiG-17 jets were built collectively.
17. Chengdu J-10/F-10 (2002) – IAI Lavi (1986)
Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) developed a prototype single-engined fourth-generation multirole jet fighter in the 1980s called Lavi. The project was later canceled during the flight testing phase, three prototypes were built. The Chinese later introduced the Chengu J-10 in 1998. Externally the two planes could be brothers.
Senior Russian engineers have been cited saying that their Chinese colleges have admitted to benefiting greatly from technical information from the Israeli Lavi project. China has denied all allegations that there is any connection between the two aircraft.
18. Xian MA-60 (2000) – Antonov An-24 (1960)
The Xian MA-60 is a turboprop-powered airliner based directly off the Soviet Antonov An-24, evident just by comparing the two aircraft. The An-24 was designed and manufactured in the Soviet Union and made its first test flight in 1969. The An-24 is still actively used by many countries around the world. The Chinese MA60 combines designs from the Xian Y7 and Russian An-24 to operate in rugged conditions and to have short take-off and landing capabilities.
The MA-60 has been involved in a significant number of accidents, one resulting in the loss of 21 passengers and 4 crewmembers. New Zealand even suspended aid to Tonga’s tourism industry after China donated a MA-60 to Real Tonga airline.
19. Harbin SH-5 (1986) – Japanese Shin Meiwa US-1A (1971)
The Harbin SH-5 appears to be very similar to the Japanese Shin Meiwa US-1A. No information exists linking the two aircraft, such as design leaks or stolen prototypes but the two are extremely alike. The US-1A was developed by the Japanese manufacturer Shin Meiwa and took its first flight in 1967. It was introduced into the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force in 1971.
The aircraft is designed for anti-submarine warfare and air-sea rescue. The Chinese model took its first flight test just a decade later.
20. Changhe Z-11 (1994) – Eurocopter/Aerospatiale AS350 (1974)
The Changhe Z-11 is a strikingly close copy of the French Eurocopter AS350. The Chinese developed their version two decades after the AS350 but perhaps the similarity is just a coincidence… Sadly, the Chinese helicopter rates either worse or the same for most specifications and characteristics against the AS350. The Z-11 is heralded as the first indigenously-designed helicopter in China despite its very notable similarities to the AS350.
At least 3,600 of the popular AS350 helicopter have been built and distributed worldwide since its debut in 1975.
21. Harbin Z-8 (1985) – Aerospatiale Super Frelon (1962)
The Chinese manufactured the French Super Frelon under license and sold by the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group. The Super Frelon helicopter is a three-engined transport helicopter and was at one point the world’s fastest helicopter. The helicopters were used in China as either anti-submarine aircraft or rescue aircraft.
The Super Frelon saw heavy usage during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, proving the aircraft’s value as rescue transport. Other squads of the helicopter are used in China for fighting wildfires.
22. Harbin Z-9 (1981) – Eurocopter/Aerospatiale AS365 (1975)
The Harbin Z-9 is a licensed Chinese variant of the French Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin. The European helicopter made its first test flight in 1975 and are still in use today. The Chinese variant was first tested in 1981 and later introduced in 1994.
The Z-9 was initially a utility helicopter then the Chinese developed the Z-9W variant which could perform missions such as anti-tank warfare, close air support, armed patrol, anti-terrorism and law enforcement. In 2010 China sold a number of the Z-9W helicopters to an undisclosed customer… North Korea anyone?
23. Shenyang J-8 (1980) – Sukhoi Su-15 (1962)
The J-8 is essentially a copy of the Soviet Sukhoi Su-15, a twin-engined supersonic interceptor aircraft. The Chinese were able to produce the aircraft due to technology taken from the Soviets due to cooperation between the two countries during the 50s and 60s.
The J-8 was built to combat the new B-58 Hustler bomber, F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber and the Lockheed U-2 spy plane. Currently, over 300 J-8 aircraft are in use by China’s PLAAF. At least 1,290 Su-15 aircraft have been built.
24. Chengdu J-7 (1966) – MiG-21 (1955)
The Chengdu J-7 supersonic jet fighter and interceptor is a license-built version on the Soviet MiG-21. Both the Chinese and Soviet jets are codenamed “Fishbed” by NATO. The Soviets shared their technology with the Chinese to overtake western aircraft. The project stopped after the Sino-Soviet split due to political and ideological differences.
After the split, the Chinese reverse-engineered the MiG-21 for local production. Countries all over the world still use the two aircraft, collectively over 14,000 MiG-21 and J-7 have been built.
25. Xian H-6 (1959) – Tupolev Tu-16 (1952)
The Xian H-6 was developed from the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16. The H-6 is a twin-engined jet strategic heavy bomber. The aircraft was licensed to the Chinese and at least 120 of the jets are currently active in the PLAAF. One of the first airborne nuclear tests inside China was carried out with an H-6 on May 14, 1965, at the Lop Nur test site. At least 45 nuclear tests were conducted at the site.
One Japanese expert suggests that at least 190,000 people in the region may have died from nuclear-related illnesses. Advancements in ballistic missile technology have since diminished the H-6’s importance as a nuclear-delivery jet.
26. Harbin H-5 (1966) – Ilyushin Il-28 (1948)
The Harbin H-5 is the Soviet-licensed Ilyushin Il-28 jet bombers, codenamed Beagle by NATO. The jet bomber was the first of its type that entered mass-production in the USSR. At least 7,000 of the aircraft were produced. Currently, only North Korea still uses the aircraft. The twin engined jet bomber was developed to carry a bombload of over 6,600 lbs at 500mph.
The Il-28 was widely exported and used by Egypt in multiple wars against Israel. The Il-28 also saw limited use in the Vietnam War.
27. Yunshuji-6 (1960) – Ilyushin Il-12 (1945)
The 1960 Chinese Yunshuji-6 was a copy of the 1945 Soviet Ilyushin Il-12. The Il-12 was developed in the mid-1940s for small to medium cargo transport or airline use. Around 660 of the aircraft were produced. The twin-engine cargo plane had a reach 3,100 miles at a speed of 250 mph.
The aircraft was very accident prone. Between 1947 and 1960 at least 49 of the aircraft were totaled in accidents, killing around 465 people on board.
28. Nanchang CJ-6 (1958) – Yakovlev Yak-18 (1946)
The Nanchang CJ-6 was designed and manufactured in China but you wouldn’t know if from looking at it. The plane looks exactly like the Soviet built Yakovlev Yak-18. The Yak-18 was a licensed predecessor of the CJ-6. According to the Chinese, their “new” model added “an aluminum semi-monocoque fuselage, flush-riveted throughout, and introduced a modified Clark airfoil wing design with pronounced dihedral in the outer sections.”
The Chinese built over 2,000 of these aircraft. The Yak-18, the supposed predecessor to the CJ-6, was famously used by the North Korean army during the Korean War as night bombers.
29. Nanchang Y-5 (1957) – Antonov An-2 (1948)
The Nanchang Y-5 was built from blueprints of the Antonov An-2. The plane is often referred to as the “corn crop duster” and used as an agricultural and utility aircraft. The Soviets mass produced over 18,000 of the planes from 1947 through 2001. The North Korean Special Operation Force reportedly still uses the An-2 for paratrooper infiltrations.
The planes can carry up to 12 passengers and reach a maximum speed of up to 160 mph. The An-2 is known for being a reliable plane that has the ability to take off from poor runways.
30. Harbin Z-5 (1959) – Mil Mi-4 (1952)
The Harbin Z-5 helicopter was designed by the Soviets as Mil Mi-4, the blueprints were shared with the Chinese just before the Soviet-China split. China took the designs and started manufacturing the helicopters for themselves. The Z-5 is a piston-powered transport/utility helicopter. It was first tested in 1958 and then introduced in 1959.
The Chinese mass produced at least 575 Harbin Z-5 helicopters, some with machine-gun and rocket pod modifications. The Z-5 has since been retired from active service.
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