A small cohort of Chengdu J-20 stealth fighters entered into the People's Liberation Army Air Force earlier this year in February, while reports indicate the aircraft and its engine will enter mass production by the end of the year.
China's highly-touted J-20 has been seen as Beijing's entrance into the world of high-end aircraft design and production, joining the US' F-35 and Russia's Su-57 as some of the only fifth-generation fighter jets on the planet. The US military is convinced the J-20 will present a substantial threat, despite the engine challenges the jet has reportedly faced during development.
A photo obtained by The Aviationist shows what seems to be a full-sized J-20 aircraft in Hilton Head, Georgia, on December 5. On Sunday, a military official confirmed the outlet's hunch.
— The Aviationist (@TheAviationist) December 6, 2018
"It is a full scale replica and remained at the Air Dominance Center for a short period during the week of 4-6 Dec. The USMC is funding and directing the training objectives of this device," said Col. Emmanuel Haldopoulos, commander of the Savannah Air Dominance Center, in comments to The Aviationist.
The photo previously sparked speculation that the plane might be a J-20 last week, Sputnik reported. The internet wondered if the plane was a prop for the "Top Gun" sequel, an image made with Photoshop or a mockup aircraft. According to a Monday report from TMZ, Tom Cruise is in Lake Tahoe, California, filming "Top Gun: Maverick."
— 3D Printed M1 Abrams (@Short_Field) December 6, 2018
According to Chinese defense observer Andreas Rupprecht, who's written several authoritative books on Chinese air power, there are a number of differences between the replica in Georgia and the real J-20. First, the aircraft's control surfaces didn't move in a static, parked position, he noted. Second, the landing gears are different. And lastly, the engine nozzle on the mockup was incorrect. These points solidified the evidence that the plane is a mock aircraft and not an authentic Chengdu J-20.