The AVIC AG600 - the world's largest operational amphibian

By Willie Bodenstein

The AVIC AG600 Kunlong (Kun Dragon') is a Chinese amphibious aircraft developed for aerial firefighting. After five years of development, assembly started in August 2014 and it was rolled out on 23 July 2016. It made its first flight from Zhuhai Airport on 24 December 2017.

At the roll-out, AVIC targeted a maiden flight by the end of 2016 and announced that it had then gathered 17 orders, all from the Chinese government.

The prototype started low-speed taxiing on the Zhanghe reservoir on 30 August 2018 and on 20 October 2018 completed its first water take-off and landing at Jingmen's Zhanghe Reservoir.

Assembled by CAIGA, the Kunlong amphibious aircraft has a single body flying boat fuselage with cantilevered high wings and is able to take off from paved runways or 48.8 t (108,000 lb) from choppy sea. Powered by Four WJ-6 turboprops, the Kunlong has a maximum speed of 560 km/h (350 mph, 300 knots), cruises at 500 km/h (310 mph, 270 knots). It has a maximum range of 4,500 km (2,800 mi, 2,400 Nm) and 16-hour endurance.

Its operating figures are quite impressive. It is able to operate from 1,500 by 200 m (4,920 by 660 ft) stretches of water 2.5 m (8.2 ft) deep and to conduct Sea State 3 operations with 2 m (6.6 ft) waves. Used in its firefighting role, it can collect 12 t (26,000 lb) of water in 20 seconds and transport up to 370 t (820,000 lb) of water on a single tank of fuel (31 rotations). In its search and rescue, it can retrieve up to 50 people at sea.

A real behemoth, roughly the size of a Boeing 737, the Kunlong is 36.9m long, 12.1 m (39 ft 8 in) high and has a 38.8m wingspan and a MTOW of 53.5 t (118,000 lb). It is heavier than the 41 t (90,000 lb) MTOW Beriev Be-200 or the 47.7 t (105,000 lb) ShinMaywa US-2, but lighter than the prototype-only 86 t (190,000 lb) Beriev A-40. Previous seaplanes were heavier, as the 75 t (165,000 lb) Martin JRM Mars or the prototypes 100 t (220,000 lb) Blohm & Voss BV 238, 156 t (345,000 lb) Saunders-Roe Princess or 180 t (400,000 lb) Hughes H-4 Hercules.

On 26 July 2020 Avic announced that the AG600 Kunlong had successfully completed its maiden flight over the sea. The amphibian had taken off from the sea off Qingdao at 10:18 a.m. and completed a test flight that had lasted for about 31 minutes. The successful flight from the sea is a major breakthrough for the aircraft following its maiden flight over land in 2017 and first take-off from a water reservoir in 2018.

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