Most Chinese aircraft are not attractive. It would have been far easier to make a top ten of ugly Chinese aircraft, which the oft-forgotten Nanchang J-12 may well have won. This little design disaster resembled a MiG-19 in the process of being eaten whole by a Austin Allegro. However, after much trawling we did find ten beauties. You might not agree, but it’s about time we appreciated the designs of the most active aircraft-producing nation in the world. After all, of the first flights of new types that have happened since 1996, 80 per cent have happened in mainland China! OK, we admit, some of these may have had non-Chinese origins.
10. Shanghai Y-10
A purposeful 707-alike. An obscure suggestion from Combat Aircraft’s Thomas Newdick.
9. CAIC WZ-10
The best-looking helicopter gunship in the world. The brutal sides of its rivals are replaced with subtle compound curves. A mean-looking machine. (Yes, it is essentially a Kamov design)
8. CHU X-PO
A shoddy machine based loosely on the Curtiss P-75A, still looked pretty good.
7. ‘Fushing biplane‘
6. Yuneec International E430
A nicely left-field suggestion from artist Edward Ward. This is the anti-thesis of everything that’s wrong with Chinese Aerothetics: an organic, flowing shape with perky elegance, it is a lovely-looking machine. It’s also electric!
5. Xian JH-7
If you saw this aircraft with no markings and no preconceptions, you would assume it was a US type from the 1960s. Masculine and muscular, you probably would have guessed it came from the drawing boards of Convair or Republic. A classic shape, it is the Hulk to the Mirage F1’s Bruce Banner.
4. Chengdu J-10
The nose is a little to small, as is the wing and the jet nozzle. The tail fin is too tail. The intake (of the A-variant) is a little too serious, like the mouth of a disapproving aunt of Bertie Wooster. This aside, it has a zippy dynamism and a rather exciting aggression to the design.
3. Harbin SH-5
What’s not to like?
2. Chengdu J-20
Somewhere between a prehistoric rhino, a F-22 and a monstrous mutant Viggen; this massive, evil brute is a real attention getter. Doesn’t get the top position though as its good looks are not all-aspect and it looks a little lumbering from certain angles.
1. Hongdu L-15
Many Chinese aircraft lack an overall coherency of form. But, the Hongdu L-15 is a notable exception. A nicely proportioned advanced trainer, it looks good from any aspect.
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The judges were: Hush-Kit’s Joe Coles, Combat Aircraft‘s Thomas Newdick, the RAF Review‘s Paul Eden, The Aviation Historian‘s Nick Stroud and the artist Ed Ward. If you enjoyed this, have a look at the top ten British,French, Swedish, Australian, Soviet and German aeroplanes. Wanting Something a little more exotic- try the top ten fictional aircraft. Feeling more negative? Enjoy a little glass of Schadenfreude and read about the Ten Worst Carrier Aircraft.
What was the most combat effective piston-engined fighter ever made? An analysis can be found here.
You may also enjoy top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an alternate history of the TSR.2, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is the The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker.
Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit