Photos of China's J-20 stealth fighter prototype are all the rage on online military forums, after word emerged that another test flight was completed Sunday when officials in Beijing celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China's aviation industry.
Some of the online footage showed scores of military enthusiasts yelling when an aircraft flew over the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute's airfield in Sichuan Province, but it was unclear whether the plane was the J-20 prototype.
"The J-20 made several passes and waggled its wings (rolling the plane first to one side then to the other) to salute the crowd near the airfield," a witness told the Global Times on condition of anonymity, adding that the plane took off at around 4:25 pm and landed at about 5:50 pm.
As of press time, Chinese authorities had not commented on the issue, but the Xinhua News Agency posted another clip of the flight uploaded by Internet users.
The J-20 prototype made its 18-minute debut flight in Chengdu on January 11, when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Beijing. Since then, it has been touted as a potential challenger to the US Air Force's F-22 Raptor, the world's only fifth-generation fighter jet.
Xu Yongling, one of China's top test pilots, said that if Sunday's test flight proved true, it would be more or less the same as the first test, but Xu noted that every test is one step closer to mass production.
"The first 10 to 20 tests are meant to calibrate the entire aircraft, including its stability, handling qualities and performance. All of them are short in time, but the entire process will take years to complete," Xu told the Global Times on Monday.
The alleged test flight coincided with a celebration in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday that marked the 60th anniversary of China's aviation industry.
Lin Zuoming, general manager of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), pledged at the ceremony to push forward the development of next-generation aircraft and to make breakthroughs in propulsion systems.
"By 2015, the research and design of all key models will be completed," Lin said, adding that inferior engine design has been a "bottleneck" for the advancement of China's aviation industry.
According to him, AVIC will invest 10 billion yuan ($1.52 billion) in engine development, which is equivalent to its net profit from 2010.
However, this amount of investment is unimpressive when compared with other major engine projects.
According to a press release from Pratt & Whitney, the company was awarded a contract valued at more than $4 billion in 2001 to develop its F135 engine for the US air force's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
Lin also urged speedup in transferring technology to civil aviation, saying China's aviation industry cannot rely solely on the military.
Wang Zhilin, general manager of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, told CCTV on Sunday that, by 2020, China's C919 passenger jet will be equipped with engines designed by AVIC.
"By 2021, the Chinese aviation industry will be at the same level as major players in the world and have become the outstanding supplier of air defense equipment," Lin added.
Separately, another rumor circulated on the Internet recently involving the alleged J-18, China's first warplane with vertical/short takeoff and landing capabilities.
Earlier this month, citing a report by Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Phoenix Television said the J-18 had completed a test flight at a field base in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
The report said the wings of the jet, similar to Russia's Su-33, a carrier-based multi-role fighter, could be folded, and suspected that it would be installed on China's future aircraft carrier.
The report came at the same time as foreign media speculated that China's first aircraft carrier, a modification of the Varyag bought from Ukraine, would take to the oceans in July. The Chinese military has denied such reports.
Ding Zhiyong, a spokesperson at the AVIC, told the Global Times on Monday that the Japanese report of the alleged J-18 was pure speculation and that the corporation had no information to reveal.
Li Daguang, a professor specializing in military strategy at the National Defense University, told the Global Times earlier that even if the rumored carrier were true, the vessel would only be used for training.