Chinese Upgrade Fighter Jets More Maneuverable: China’s J-10 fighter jet is now equipped with thrust vectoring controls that allow the jet to perform seemingly impossible aerial exercises. Upgrading this long rumor into a well-known jet fighter began at the Zhuhai Air Show.
The Chengdu J-10 “Vigorous Dragon” is a single-engine fighter designed for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (Chinese Air Force). The J-10 falls into the same category as the American F-16, and both aircraft share even the same DNA, as the Chinese jet was built with the Israeli help of Israel’s Levi fighter based on the F-16. However, technically, the Chinese aircraft is about fifteen years behind the F-16 platform, and even behind modern fighter jets such as the F-35.
Even so, the J-10 now has what the F-16 does not have: the ability to control thrust vectoring that pushes its motion into the stratosphere. The jet is able to propel its exhaust, allowing it to move its nose in one direction but actually push itself in the other.
In conventional aircraft, the direction of the engines determines the direction of the aircraft. The engines point forward, so the planes move forward. Pilots use traditional control systems – readers, elevators, flaps, irons, and brakes to point the aircraft where they want to go.
Demonstrating X-31 technology. Note the thrust vectoring pedals on the tail-mounted behind the engine exhaust.
Thrust Vectoring Control (TVC) turns this idea upside down. Advanced in the United States in the early 1990s, TVCs changed the direction of engine emissions, making it possible to travel in any direction other than pointing at the engine (and aircraft).
This could result in a plane jerking in the air, rising like a dragon, slowing down to a relative crawl, or doing some other seemingly impossible aerial tactic. Thanks to computer-controlled fly-by-wire technology that instantly converts a pilot’s control input into action, a pilot doesn’t have to do complicated calculations to get his plane to do what he wants. ۔ He just does it and takes care of the rest of the plane.
Initially, the move was completed with pedals that pushed the engine out to change the direction of the thrust. Think when you partially cover the garden hose nozzle with your thumb. The water still comes out, but in the opposite direction to the location of your thumb.
Modern thrust vectoring technology uses a moving thrust nozzle instead of pedals. Using this technology, the F-22 Raptor can angle its thrust up or down 24 degrees. Russia began adding TVC to the Sukhoi Su-30 and the new Su-35. It is also a feature of the Su-57 Five Generation Fighter. In 2017, the Su-35 conducted head-to-head aerial exercises at an air show on the outskirts of Moscow thanks to TVC. China’s J-10 super maneuverable fighter jet has now joined the elite club.
Thrust vectoring in action: Note the direction of the smoke as opposed to the direction the nose of the aircraft points.
For months, there have been reports from China that the J-10’s developer, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, has been working on a TVC exhaust system for single-engine fighters. A photo of the J-10 surfaced with TVC in January 2018, but no official announcement was made. Finally, the TVC-equipped J-10B made its debut yesterday with a moving nozzle. Instead of using the thumb to control the direction of the water, this garden hose pivots the entire nozzle.
According to FlightGlobal, the J-10B at the Zhuhai Air Show featured “narrow vertical loops, a slow, high angle of an attack roll, cobra moves, and falling leaves.” Famous mechanics covered some of these exercises in 2017 when a Russian Su-35 Flanker-E fighter performed them at the Zhukovsky Air Show.
The big question is where the Chinese TVC goes from here. Although the United States tested such technology in the early ’90s, it did not include the F-15, Super Hornet, F-16, or even later versions of the F-35. While TVC is useful, you can only add a handful of capabilities to a fighter, and American manufacturers do not prefer TVC.
China’s most advanced jets, the FC-31, and J-20 do not have TVCs and probably never will. But even if TVC does not build it on future aircraft, Chinese aviation can claim to be able to maintain the pace of technological innovation set by Russia and the West.