The Flight of JF-17

PAF’s three fighters drew quite some attention at the show

Prasun K. Sengupta

Three Pakistan Air Force (PAF) JF-17A Thunder Light-MRCAs participated in the expo, following their first appearance at Le Bourget back in 2015. Presently, the last three JF-17A Block-2s are on the Aircraft Manufacturing Factory’s (AMF) final assembly line at the Kamra-based Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), which will eventually equip a seventh operational squadron of the PAF later this year.

JF-17 Thunder of Pakistan Air Force during Paris Air Show 2019 ©

Meanwhile, the first JF-17 has undergone a major overhaul at PAC Kamra’s Aircraft Repair Factory, and there is a tandem-seat JF-17B operational conversion trainer, 17-601, now undergoing test and evaluation at the AMF. A decision from the PAF on new-design active phased-array multi-mode radar (AESA-MMR) for the Block-3 JF-17s is pending and is expected by this November, followed by its first evaluation sortie early next year. Then, under contracts that were signed in late-2017, the AMF will assemble 50 Block-3 JF-17s and 26 JF-17Bs. Next year, the Air Engineering Depot No.102 at PAF Base Faisal will start overhauling the JF-17’s Klimov RD-93 turbofans.

After the PAF’s February 27 confrontation with the Indian Air Force (IAF), known in Pakistan as Operation Swift Retort, the PAF’s Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan had said in mid-April that ‘the aircraft performed very well against the IAF’s Mirage-2000s and MiG-21 Bisons’.

On the export front, Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) has so far delivered six FC-1s (four single-seaters and two dual seaters) to the Myanmar Air Force, while the PAC has sold three JF-17As to Nigeria, and these should be delivered after the pilots are trained in Pakistan. Sales and marketing of the JF-17 have been split between PAC and China National Aero-Technology Import-Export Corp (CATIC) since 2015. CATIC is engaged in discussions with Egypt on the sale of FC-1 Block-3s, while PAC continues to talk to Malaysia.

More than 100 JF-17s have now come off the AMF’s final-assembly line, where the wings, horizontal tail, vertical tail, and forward fuselage, representing 58 per cent of the L-MRCA, are built. They are matched with the remaining 42 per cent built in Chengdu, China, including the mid- and rear- fuselages that are airfreighted to PAC Kamra. The three fuselage sections are mated at the JF-17 sub-assembly line and are pushed through on a large trolley to one of the four docks in the final-assembly facility. That is when the avionics, wiring, undercarriage, harnesses, and Klimov RD-93 turbofans are added, while the Martin-Baker Mk.16 ejection seats come later. The L-MRCAs’ air-to-air refuelling probes are not necessarily fitted on the assembly line, although all the necessary plumbing has been put in place since the production of the first JF-17A Block-2 (13-129).

After being towed down to the flight-test shed, the newly built JF-17s are put through five functional check-flights (FCF) by one of the four qualified test-pilots based at the co-located Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES). Three PAF pilots have qualified from the Boscombe Down-based Empire Test Pilot School for the JF-17, but now most of them go to Xian in China to get their type-qualifications. They undergo a six-month training programme in China after flying with two PAF operational JF-17 squadrons. During the FCFs these test-pilots push the aircraft to the limit, right through the complete envelope, to assess the handling qualities, checking the systems and aircraft performance. Once the FCFs are completed, the PAF then puts the JF-17 through a further check-flight and if there are no snags, the aircraft will be officially handed over to the PAF.

PAC Chairman Air Marshal Ahmer Shahzad revealed that production of sub-assemblies has already started for the first two of 50 Block-3 aircraft to be assembled in 2020, and will be followed by another 12 each in 2021, 2022, 2023, and 2024. The AMF will assemble eight JF-17B dual-seaters this year, followed by 14 in 2020, and the remaining four in 2021. Presently, the PAF has 98 in-service JF-17s in the Block-I and Block-2 configurations.

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