The AG600 Jiaolong ("Water Dragon") took its first flight over the South China Sea on Sunday, according to a report by the South China Morning Post (SCMP). Propelled by four turboprop engines, this beast can take off with 53.5 tons of cargo onboard, fly as far 3,500 miles, at altitudes approaching seven miles all while traveling at 350 mph. It can also scoop up 12 metric tons of water in just 20 seconds, which can be later used to douse of forest fires.
Designed primarily for maritime rescue missions, the Jiaolong can carry up to 50 people, and can land and take off from water. The machine was developed by China's Aviation Industry Corporation, and the company already has orders for 17 units, SCMP reports.
It took approximately 8 years to develop the plane; it was supposed to take its maiden (first ever) flight earlier in April, but the ceremony was postponed due to undisclosed reasons.
With a wingspan of 128 feet and a length of 121 feet, the AG600 has been claimed by many to be the largest amphibious plane in the world. This is not exactly true: while it might be the largest amphibious plane currently in service, for sheer size it was surpassed by at least two previous aircraft.
According to Guinness Book of World Records, the largest amphibious plane in current use is Russian Beriev A-40. Built in 1986, the A-40 has a wingspan of almost 140 feet, and is just shy of 150 feet long. When first launched, the enormous aircraft achieved 148 world records, but, as only two of the planes built, the program was suspended in 2012, only to be revived in 2016.
31 years ago first flight Beriev A-40 Albatros (aka Be-42, NATO: Mermaid) Soviet jet-engined amphibious flying boat designed for anti-submarine warfare role. Project suspended after 1 prototype due to the breakup of Soviet Union. Later revived & order placed by the Russian Navy pic.twitter.com/JGq0uqQBoj— FAST Museum ✈ (@FASTmuseum) 8 декабря 2017 г.
Historically, both the Chinese and the Russian planes were surpassed by the world famous eccentric US aviator Howard Hughes, who designed and built the H-4 Hercules, an almost entirely wooden flying boat nicknamed the Spruce Goose..
El 2 de noviembre de 1947 en Long Beach, el hidroavión Hughes H-4 Hércules, hecho en su mayoría de madera, realizó su primer y único vuelo. pic.twitter.com/biU2SZ9MQg— MEMORABLE (@EsMemorable) 3 ноября 2017 г.
Powered by eight propeller-driven engines, the H-4 is the largest amphibious aircraft ever built, with a wingspan of 320 feet and a height of 80 feet. Only one prototype was constructed, but took off on November 2, 1947, and flew for about two miles over the coastal waters of Los Angeles. Hughes kept the prototype operational up until his death in 1976, which reportedly cost him some $1 million annually. The total development cost of the plane is estimated to have been some $23 million, which, when adjusted for inflation, would be $283 million in 2016.
Compared with the $1.5 trillion estimated cost of the US F-35 Joint Strike fifth-generation jet fighter aircraft program, that's chump change.