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Xian Y-20

Posted on March 24 2022

Xian Y-20 user+1@localho… Thu, 03/24/2022 - 21:17

The Xian Y-20 Kunpeng is a four-engine transport aircraft designed to bolster the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)’s strategic airlift capability. While China matures its own WS-20 engine for the project, early production Y-20s are powered by Russian UEC Saturn D-30KP-2 turbofan engines supplying 26,455 lbf. (117.7 kN) of thrust each at takeoff. The Y-20 is similar in configuration and role to the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.

Program History

In 2003, China’s State Council authorized the establishment of a study group for a new transport aircraft. It issued a plan in February 2006 for 16 major projects from 2006 to 2020, one of which would be a heavy transport aircraft for China’s military. The program was officially authorized on Feb. 26th, 2007.

China had since 2005 attempted to procure 34 Ilyushin Il-76s and four Il-78 aerial refuelers from Russia, but disputes over pricing between Russia and the (independent) plant in Tashkent, Uzbekistan producing the aircraft killed the acquisition while Russia relocated the production line. Because of labor issues and the contract dispute, the plant would not guarantee delivery of any more than 16 aircraft (the number of airframes it already had on hand).

In the background, China approached Ukraine’s Antonov to negotiate cooperation on developing an all-new airlifter. Antonov had since 2000 already worked with China’s AVIC to upgrade the PLAAF’s fleet of An-12s, Y-8s and An-2s and to design the wing of the ARJ 21. By mid-2006 Ukraine had offered China the An-70, a four-engine airlifter with a supercritical wing developed in the dying days of the Soviet Union that first flew in 1994.

Unfortunately, the An-70s 103,600 lb. (47,000 kg) payload capacity and 730 nmi. (1,350 km) range at maximum payload were considered insufficient for Chinese requirements. China also had no interest in the temperamental D-27 turbofan engine envisioned for the program. Instead, it proposed to design a new aircraft around the D-30KP-2. The new transport would require a range equal to or better than that of the Il-76TD.

Antonov responded by suggesting a derivation of the An-77, a variant of the An-70 with a dramatically increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 412,300 lb. (187,000 kg) and a 2 m (6.56 ft) fuselage plug forward of the wings to increase cargo volume. The An-77 concept originally called for CFM56-5A16 engines, but as proposed to China it would use the D-30KP-2. The proposal was designated Y-XX and included as objectives a 440,900 lb. (200,000 kg) MTOW and a 110,200 lb. (50,000 kg) payload.

The design changed again, and the proposal was further enlarged in line with the An-170 proposal for an aircraft with a 507,000 lb. (230,000 kg) MTOW, 132,300 lb. (60,000 kg) payload and a standard wing profile. The requirements creep was largely driven by the desire to ensure the Y-XX could carry China’s most modern (and heaviest) tank, the Type 99-IIA, also known as the Type 99A2, ZTZ-99-IIA or ZTZ-99A2. The Type 99 weighs at most 127,900 lb. (58,000 kg) in its combat ready configuration. Discounting fuel and ammunition this equates to roughly 121,250 lb. (55,000 kg).By July 2009 work was underway at the 606 Institute on the WS-20, and by August of that year work was underway on the rear fuselage of the first prototype Y-XX. By the end of the year the aircraft was known as the Y-20. In January 2012, the airframe for the first prototype was structurally complete. The C-17 may have directly influenced the design during this period through Su Bin, a Chinese national working in the aerospace industry in Canada who helped two PLA hackers steal 630,000 documents pertaining to the C-17 from Boeing between 2008 and 2014. Bin was arrested in Canada in July 2014, extradited to the U.S., and sentenced to 46-months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to gain unauthorized access to a protected computer and to violate the Arms Export Control Act.

In January 2013 a Y-20 was observed on commercial satellite imagery at a runway at the PLAAF’s Yanliang airfield, surrounded by personnel and ground equipment. Yanliang airfield is associated with the China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE), and the aircraft was likely undergoing taxi tests in preparation for its first flight, which took place on Jan. 26, 2013.


Overall Design

The Y-20 features a high-mounted swept wing with a supercritical airfoil. It is anhedrally mounted to counteract the excessive roll stability associated with a high wing design. The aircraft has a large, swept T-tail; leading edge slats; large triple slotted flaps; and conventional ailerons, elevators and rudder. Large spoilers are mounted to the wing.

It has tricycle landing gear, with two wheels for the nose gear and twelve wheels for the main gear (in two arrays of three pairs).

Cargo Handling

The Y-20 features a pressurized cargo cabin and a rear ramp. Passengers typically enter through a door on the port side of the aircraft near the nose. paratroops doors aft of the wheel wells, though the Y-20 also supports static line jumps over the open cargo ramp. The Y-20 has also been photographed airdropping the ZBD-03 airborne infantry fighting vehicle.

The cargo bay is about 12.75 ft. (3.9 m) wide and about 12 ft. (3.7 m) tall, though the usable volume of the bay is slightly less than this suggests due to the rounding of the fuselage. Excluding the ramp, the bay is about 50.9 ft. (15.5 m) long, or 63.9 ft. (19.5 m) with the ramp included.

A Y-20A deployed to Wuhan in early 2020 as part of COVID-19 quarantine and relief operations.

Sources differ widely on the maximum payload and takeoff weights of the Y-20. Estimates for the former figure extend from 110,200 lb. (50,000 kg) at the low end to 145,500 lb. (66,000 kg) at the high end. The takeoff weight is likely around 396,800 lb. (180,000 kg) to 440,900 lb. (200,000 kg). In any case, the Y-20 does not reach its full potential from this standpoint until it is equipped with WS-20-series high bypass engines in place of the D-30KP-2. Chinese media has claimed that the Y-20A can transport two Type 15 light tanks, each weighing about 72,750 lb. (33,000 kg) in its basic configuration.




Max Payload Weight

110,200 lb. – 145,500 lb.

110,230 lb.

170,900 lb.

Range at Max Payload


2,100 nmi

< 2,400 nmi

Cargo Bay Dimensions (Ramps Excluded)

50.9 ft. x 12.75 ft. x 12 ft.

65.6 ft. x 10.83 ft. x 11.08 ft.

65.33 ft. x 18 ft. x 12.33 ft.

Cargo Bay Volume

(Ramps Excluded)

7,788 ft.3




The Y-20A is powered by four D-30KP-2 low-bypass turbofan engines supplying 26,455 lbf. (117.7 kN) of thrust at takeoff. The engine has a specific fuel consumption of 0.510 kg/kgf/hr. Because these engines are used on China’s fleet of Xian H-6K/N/J bombers and its interim force of Il-76s and Il-78s, the Y-20A force can rely on the same pool of spares.

The engines are fitted with target-type thrust reversers to enhance maneuverability on the ground and reduce landing distance.

The WS-20 is based on the core of the WS-10 fighter engine, itself derived from the core of the generation-defining CFM International CFM56 high-bypass turbofan. It has been tested aboard an Il-76LL engine testbed at CFTE and will likely develop 27,000 lbf. (120 kN) to 31,500 lbf. (140 kN) of thrust at takeoff.


The Y-20’s glass cockpit accommodates a flight crew of four. The pilot and co-pilot stations each feature a heads-up display (HUD) and two large color multifunctional displays (MFDs). A fifth MFD with identical dimensions is located in the center console.

To aid low-light navigation, the Y-20 carries a small forward-looking infrared (FLIR) device beneath the windshield. This pilotage aid appears to have an aperture no more than a few inches across. A satellite communications (SATCOM) terminal is mounted dorsally aft of the wings.


Chaff-flare dispensers are mounted ventrally near the wheel wells. A February 2020 photograph indicates the Y-20A may also be capable of carrying KG-800 underwing electronic countermeasures pods.



The Y-20A is the base production variant of the aircraft equipped with the D-30KP-2 engine.


Y-20s equipped with the indigenous WS-20 turbofan engine are commonly noted as Y-20Bs. The first Y-20B prototype was also observed with a flood light mounted on the leading edge of the vertical tail fin, possibly to support aerial refueling. China presently only possesses a handful of hose-and-drogue refuelers in the form of the HD-6U and the Il-78, and the Y-20U will also be a hose-and-drogue system, so if Y-20Bs are to receive in-flight refueling (IFR) capability they will require IFR probes. No Y-20 prototypes or production aircraft have been observed with IFR probes as of February 2022.


China is pursuing an aerial refueling variant of the Y-20, known as the Y-20U. A D-30KP-2-powered Y-20U prototype first flew on Dec. 5, 2018, and a second prototype was observed by July 2019. By November 2021, a prototype fitted with WS-20 engines was observed at XAC.

The Y-20U prototypes feature two underwing refueling pods, and also likely feature a centerline, fuselage-mounted hose station to support larger receivers such as the H-6N and KJ-500A. Both these aircraft have been seen with IFR probes. To provide situational awareness for the refueling system operator day and night cameras are installed near the centerline system, and white lines are painted nearby to provide a clear spatial reference to the aircrew of a receiving aircraft.


The Y-20-F010 is a notional civil configuration of the Y-20 displayed in model form at Airshow China in 2014. The model featured high bypass engines (probably the WS-20) and significant fuselage stretch forward of the wing.


An airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) variant of the Y-20 has long been rumored. Such an aircraft would likely bear similarities to the KJ-2000, an AEW&C conversion of the Il-76 featuring a large radome mounted on a post just aft of the wing box. The radome houses three phased arrays in a triangular arrangement, such that each can cover a 120-deg. sector of space.

In February 2020, the commanding officer of an aviation regiment assigned to China’s Western Theater Command indicated to Chinese state media that an AEW&C variant was in development. No photographic evidence of test articles in an AEW&C configuration have been observed as of February 2022, but the officer’s concurrent claim that a tanker derivative (the Y-20U) would be revealed soon has been borne out.

Production and Delivery History

31 serial production Y-20As and two Y-20Us are in service as of February 2023. China is the only operator of the Y-20, which dominates the high end of its airlift capability. The lower niche is filled primarily by the Y-8/Y-9 series of An-12 derivatives.

All Y-20s reside either with the PLAAF or with CFTE, which has eight – five Y-20As, 1 Y-20B and two Y-20Us. Serial production began by September 2015 at Xian and continues through the present. Besides the Y-20, the Xian plant at Yianliang is also responsible for the H-6K/J/N production line.


Five Y-20A prototypes were built. They carry the serials 781, 783, 785, 788 and 789. In November 2020, a Y-20B prototype carrying the serial number 7810 first flew. A Y-20U prototype, serial 787, has also been with CFTE since at least November 2021 and probably first flew in December 2018.

Production Aircraft

The first two Y-20A production aircraft were delivered to the PLAAF on June 15, 2016. Another two were delivered by the end of the year, and Aviation Week assesses that deliveries continued at a rate of approximately four per year until 2020, when the rate doubled. The Y-20A was officially inducted into PLAAF service on July 6.

The PLAAF is believed to have a requirement for 100 Y-20s, with more to follow as tankers or special mission conversions. It is likely that China will seek to transition to inducting the Y-20B as rapidly as practicable and to fill as much of its requirement with the superior aircraft as possible. If this is precluded by teething issues with the WS-20, China will require either further D-30KP-2 imports or will need to power some Y-20s with the WS-18.

As of February 2022, 33 Y-20A airframes are confirmed to be in service. Further Y-20A production is likely to be limited by China’s stock of D-30KP-2 engines. China is known to have imported 463 of these engines between 2009 and 2020 in three successive agreements for 55 engines, 184 engines, and 224 engines respectively. 132 engines are required for in-service Y-20s alone, and at least 242 are required for the H-6 force as of February 2022.

By August 2021 at least one Y-20U was observed with an operational squadron. A second was in service by October. The PLA’s tanker force objective is unknown, but a significant expansion of the capability would make sense as the PLAAF’s mission set and reach extend in the coming years.

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