The Nanchang Q-5 (Qiangji-5, or Qiang-5; export name: A-5; NATO reporting name: Fantan) is a twin-engine, single-seat, supersonic ground attack aircraft developed by Nanchang-based Hongdu Aircraft Industry Group. The main roles of the aircraft are air interdiction and close air support. Early variants of the Q-5 in service with the PLAAF and PLA Navy have now been replaced by the upgraded variants with improved navigation and precision strike capability. The PLA has been seeking a replacement to this forty-year-old design since the 1970s, but with no success. Instead, the aircraft has been steadily upgraded with new weapons and avionics to extend its service life.
The Q-5 was developed from the Shenyang J-6 (MiG-19 Farmer copy) fighter. The Q-5 inherited the wing and tail of the J-6, but
has a redesigned fuselage featuring a solid nose with lateral air intakes. The increased airframe weight and modified profile have resulted in the Q-5 being less manoeuvrable. The Q-5 is 1,360 kg heavier than the J-6 and its maximum speed is 0.23 Mach slower. The Q-5 is also inferior to the J-6 in maximum climb rate and service ceiling, and requires longer runway for take-off and landing. Additionally, in order to give room for additional avionics and armaments, the internal fuel capacity had to be reduced, resulting in a shorter combat radius.
The Q-5 has a downward-sloping profile nose that provides the pilot with better visibility. The wings are mid-mounted, sharply swept-back, and tapered. The tails are also swept-back and tapered. Early variants of the Q-5 has a fuselage weapon bay but this was removed on the later variant to accommodate more fuel in internal tanks. Two Wopen-6 turbojet engines are mounted side-by-side in rear of the fuselage with two hydraulically actuated nozzles. The semicircular lateral air intakes have small splitter plates. The cockpit and internal tanks have armour protections. The cockpit is fitted with a 3-piece windscreen and a rear-hinged canopy.
The Q-5 is equipped with the radio compass, radio altimeter, beacon receiver, and optical firing/bomb sight. The aircraft is equipped with a low-speed ejection seat identical to that of the J-6/MiG-19, which can operate at speeds between 250~850 km/h. The aircraft is powered by two WP-6 turbojet engines, each rated at 25.5 kN (2,600 kg, 5,733 lb) dry and 31.87 kN (3250 kg, 7,165 lb) with afterburning. The aircraft can fly at near sonic speeds when carrying 1,000 kg weapon load in its internal weapon bay without external payloads. When carrying a pair of 760 external fuel tanks, the aircraft can only fly at subsonic speeds. The Q-5 usually adopts a “lo-lo-lo” flight profile, which gives a maximum combat radius of 400 km, or 600 km when using a “lo-lo-hi” profile. The flight manual of the Q-5 also instructs that the flight speed should not exceed 0.98 Mach when flying at low altitudes.
The Q-5A is the nuclear weapon bomber variant, featuring a semi-recessed weapon bay to carry a single KuangBiao 1 air-dropped thermal nuclear (hydrogen) bomb. The internal fuel capacity was increased by 2,155 litre and the external fuel capacity was increased by 1,560 litre to achieve extended range. The aircraft was fitted with nuclear weapon check and control system, an
nuclear weapon ejection mount produced by 124 Factory, and a special optical sight developed by 5714 Factory. Only a small number of the Q-5A was built and the PLAAF no longer operates this variant in active duty.
The Q-5A uses a method of loft bombing (also known as toss bombing), where the attacking aircraft pulls upwards and releases its bomb load. This method enables the aircraft evading enemy radar detection by flying at low altitudes when approaching the target. The bomb load is then released at an angle between 45~90 degrees above the horizontal, enabling it to gain some altitude to cover a larger blast killing zone in spite of its low release. The aircraft could even conduct ‘over-the-shoulder bombing’ release, where the bomb is released past the vertical so it is tossed back towards the target.
On 30 December 1970, a Q-5A ‘11264’ flown by PLAAF pilot YANG Guoxiang carried China’s first operational thermal nuclear (hydrogen) bomb to Lop Nor nuclear test site. However, the aircraft’s weapon mount failed to release the bomb over the target zone. Two subsequent attempts to release the bomb using emergency procedures also failed. YANG flew the aircraft with the bomb back to the base safely. On 7 January 1972, YANG flying the same Q-5A dropped the nuclear bomb at Lop Nor nuclear test site and the bomb detonated successfully, indicating that China’s thermal nuclear weapon was ready for operational use.
Nanchang began to evaluate the concept of a naval variant Q-5 for the PLA Naval Air Force in 1965. Three basic variant Q-5s were converted into torpedo bombers for trial and evaluations. These aircraft were fitted with special weapon mounts under the wings to carry two torpedoes. Upon successful tests of these aircraft, the PLA Navy finally approved the Q-5B development programme in 1968.
The Q-5B had two special weapon mounts to carry two Yu-2 (Soviet 56-45 copy) torpedoes or 1,000~1,500 kg free-fall bombs. The landing gears were enhanced to support the increased overall weight of the aircraft. The cockpit was raised and the conical nose was rounded. The wing area was also increased for better aerodynamic performance. The aircraft was powered by two more powerful WP-6A turbojets rated at 36.8 kN (3,750 kg) with afterburning. The fuselage weapon bay was removed to give more space for internal fuel. In addition, the aircraft was also to be fitted with four avionics improvements, including the Jia-13 radar, Doppler navigation radar, No.45 optical sight, and KJ-4 autopilot.
The Q-5B first flew on 29 September 1970, but the aircraft could not be commissioned due to the slow progress in the development of the avionics equipments. By 1979 the torpedo was deemed too obsolete and the Q-5B project was subsequently cancelled after only six examples delivered to the PLA Navy.
This variant was developed as an alternative to the original Q-5B in the late 1970s. The aircraft was designed to carry two YJ-81 anti-ship missiles under the wings. The aircraft has a Type 317A fire-control radar accommodated in the nose. The development project was later cancelled as the aircraft’s performance could not meet the requirements.
Q-5II / IA / II /A-5B
Nanchang began to develop the first major improved variant of the Q-5 in 1977. The programme was intended to tackle the short range of the basic variant Q-5. The aircraft’s original internal weapon bay was removed to give space for additional fuel. The main internal tank was enlarged and was added with a soft fuel tank. The aircraft has four under-wing stores stations, each capable of carrying up to 250 kg bomb. This variant was designated Q-5I by the PLAAF.
The Q-5I was powered by the improved WP-6AIII turbojet originally developed for the J-6III fighter. The engine is rated at 29.4 kN (2,998 kg, 6,609 lb) dry and 36.8 kN (3,752 kg, 8,273 lb) with afterburning. The land gears were enhanced to support extra weight. The break chute was relocated at base of rudder to improve the landing performance and shorten run. The aircraft was fitted with Type-I ejection seat and sea survival equipment. An 50W HF single sideband radio was added for extended range communications.
The Q-5I made its maiden flight in August 1979, with five examples were produced for testing by late 1980. The results of the flight tests showed a 26% increase in range and 35% increase in low-altitude combat radius over the basic variant Q-5. The aircraft’s take-off and landing distance are 130m shorter, and its climb rate and maximum speed were also increased. In December 1983, the Q-5I was officially certified for design finalisation.
In the second phase of the programme, the aircraft was added with improved equipments and avionics, including the tail radar warning receiver, chaff dispenser, new firing/bomb sight, and pressured fuelling system. The aircraft is also capable of carrying a range of free-fall bombs and unguided air-to-surface rocket launcher pods. The Q-5IA was design certified in 1985.
Later Nanchang added the Q-5IA with an all-aspect radar warning receiver and some other minor improvements, and gave the aircraft a new designation Q-5II. The aircraft was available in the export market under the designation A-5B. This variant may have been exported to North Korea.
The Q-5III was developed from the Q-5IA for the export market and has been given a westernised designation A-5C. The aircraft
received its first order from the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) in April 1981. Three prototypes rolled out in 1982 and the first flight took place on 7 September 1982. The aircraft passed its trial review in January 1983 and the delivery of the first batch of the aircraft began in March 1983.
The A-5C in the PAF service featured 32 modifications to meet the requirements of the PAF, including Martin-Baker ejection seat, updated avionics (RWR, IFF, UHF radio), and hardpoints modified for Western weapons such as R550 Magic or AIM-9 Sidewinder. Over 100 examples were delivered to the PAF in the 1980s. The aircraft was also export to Bangladesh, Burma and Sudan.
In July 1986, Nanchang signed a contract with the Italian company Aeritalia (now Alenia) to co-develop an improved variant known as Q-5M. The aircraft was developed on the Q-5IA airframe, but upgraded with 17 items of avionics provided by Aeritalia. The upgrade package was based on the avionic suite of the AMX International AMX ground attack aircraft, featuring inertial navigation system (INS), head-up display, ranging radar, air data computer, and two central mission computers, all of which are connected by a MIL-STD-1553B data bus.
For surface attack missions, the Q-5M could carry eleven types of free-fall bombs and/or four types of unguided rockets. The avionics upgrade package enables the aircraft deliver these weapons accurately over long distance flight in all weather conditions. For self-defence, the Q-5M could also carry two PL-5, PL-7 or French R550 IR-guidance short-range air-to-air missiles.
To improve the aircraft’s survivability in the battlefield against enemy air defence weaponry, the Q-5M was equipped with an electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite, including the all-aspect radar warning receiver and chaff/flare dispenser. The warning receiver and the dispenser are correlated so that the aircraft could automatically launch the chaff and flares immediately when a threat is detected. If necessary, the launch of the chaffs and flares could also be manually controlled by the pilot.
Modification of a Q-5IA began in August 1986. The first prototype flew successfully on 30 August 1987 and the aircraft was displayed in the 1987 Paris Air Show and 1988 Farnborough Air Show. Although the project was later cancelled during the aftermath of the 1989 incident, its technologies are believed to have been used on the development of the Q-5D.
The Q-5K is the version produced under the joint Sino-French agreement signed in 1987 to provide an alternative to the Q-5M, with prototype trials beginning in September 1991. The Q-5K features a Thomson-CSF VE-110 HUD and TMV-630 laser rangefinder, as well as other improvements. The project was cancelled in the 1990s due to political and economic reasons.
As the PLAAF failed to find a suitable successor to the ageing Q-5, Nanchang (Hongdu) began to develop a further improved variant Q-5D in the 1990s, possibly based on the technologies of the cancelled Q-5M programme. The aircraft was reported to first fly in the late 1990s, with a small number delivered to the PLAAF to replace the ageing Q-5I and Q-5IA. The Q-5D in service with the PLAAF can be identified by its deep green colour scheme in contrast to the light grey and alloy silver on early variants.
Inside the fuselage the aircraft is fitted with an instrument compartment located in front of the nose landing gear. The compartment may accommodate a new Doppler navigation radar or a TV camera. The aircraft is also fitted with improved avionics including HUD, GPS/INS navigation, RWR, TACAN, and chaff/flare launcher. The aircraft is also said to have a longer range and can carry more types of bombs, though the precision strike capability is still not fitted on this plane as standard.
Q-5 Precision Strike
The PLAAF has been seeking to add the Q-5 with precision strike capability for many years. This effort has led to the introduction
of a new precision strike variant Q-5 in 2007. The variant features an under-chin laser target designator and carries two indigenous 500 kg laser-guided bombs (comparable to the U.S. Paveway-I) under the wings. A conformal fuel tank is mounted under the fuselage to give the aircraft extended range. However, such modification may further increase the weight of the airframe and thus reduce the aircraft’s aerodynamic performance. The latest Internet-source photo confirmed that this variant is already operational with the PLAAF 5th Air Division.
Hongdu developed the twin-seat trainer variant Q-5J to replace the obsolete JJ-6 fighter-trainer for Q-5 pilot training. The aircraft has a redesigned forward fuselage and enlarged tail fin to improve stability. The first flight took place on 28 February 2005. The project was funded by Hongdu with no support from the PLAAF. It is not known whether the PLAAF would eventually accept this design.
|Builder||Nanchang Aircraft Company|
|Wing Span||31 ft, 10 in (9.8 m)|
|Length||54 ft, 10 in (16.74 m)|
|Height||14.8 feet (4.51 m)|
|Weight||12,000 kg full load|
|Engine||2 Shenyang Wopen-6 5,732 lbst turbojets|
|Internal Fuel||2883 kg|
|Drop Tanks||two 201-gal external fuel tanks|
|Maximum speed||1210 km/hr|
|Cruising speed||910 km/hr|
|Combat Radius||600 km hi-lo-hi
400 km lo-lo-lo
|Service Ceiling||16000 meters250kg bombs
PL-2 AAM PL-7 AAM 8x57mm rocket pods
|Sensors||High Fix radar, Ballistic bombsight|
|Similar Aircraft||Super Etendard, Yak-38 Forger, Mirage F1.|
|User Countries||Bangladesh, North Korea, Pakistan, People’s Republic of China.|
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