An interesting (and very large) amphibian aircraft from China

Back in the 1970’s China designed the large Harbin SH-5 amphibious maritime patrol aircraft.  Only one prototype and six production aircraft were built.

Harbin SH-5 (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

With China’s increased activities in the South China Sea, and the need for additional water-bombing aircraft to deal with forest fires, the country embarked on an ambitious design project for an even larger amphibious aircraft.  The prototype of the Avic TA-600 (also known as the AG-600) has just rolled off the assembly line.  Yahoo News reports:

The AG600, which is about the size of a Boeing 737 and was developed by state aircraft maker Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), rolled off a production line in the southern city of Zhuhai on Saturday, Xinhua said quoting the firm.

AVIC deputy general manager, Geng Rugang, said the plane was “the latest breakthrough in China’s aviation industry.” A plan for the development and production of the AG600 received government approval in 2009.

The aircraft has a maximum flight range of 4,500 km and can collect 12 tonnes of water in 20 seconds. It has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes, Xinhua said.

There’s more at the link.

The new plane hasn’t flown yet, but already China is making big plans for it.  Here’s a promotional video from that country.

I’m not sure of its utility in firefighting, given its very large size.  That’s not a problem in the air, of course, but if it needs to land on water to refill its tanks, it’s probably going to need a pretty long stretch of unobstructed, smooth water to do so – much longer than a smaller, lighter water-bomber would need.  Still, I daresay the Chinese authorities have made allowance for that.  What’s more, 14 Chinese pilots have already completed water-bomber flight training in the USA.

The Coulson Group that owns two huge Martin Mars flying boat air tankers trained 14 Chinese test pilots last year who will be the first to fly the AG-600. The training included ground, water taxi, flight, scooping, and dropping water. The trainee pilots went through classroom and hands on training using Coulson’s Hawaii Martin Mars, actually taxiing and flying the huge flying boat.

Again, more at the link.  You can also read more about the pilots’ training here.

It looks as if China’s really serious about getting this plane into production.  I’ll be watching further developments with interest.



  1. One small quibble. The Coulson Group is a Canadian firm and the flying boats are based on Kootenay Lake, B.C. Some are slated for retirement.

  2. I live on Vancouver Island. I saw one of these Mars planes fly right over my house a few days ago. They are based on Sproat Lake here on the island. We used to go to the pub across the lake and if you were lucky you could see them land or take off.,-124.9357067,15z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0x54885801b343fc17:0x38d33622ccaf815b!2sFish+%26+Duck+Pub!3b1!8m2!3d49.282839!4d-124.919415!3m4!1s0x0:0x64bcaa8af2f71b97!8m2!3d49.2895023!4d-124.9384546?hl=en-GB

  3. Only 12 tonnes of water per scoop? The CL415 scoops 6 tonnes and has a six month build time.
    Building this airplane is costing the Chinese a fortune and will take almost a decade. I think the greater motivation for this plane is to have long-range aircrew recovery capability for the coming war in the "South China Sea' aka the territorial waters of Vietnam, The Philipines & Malaysia.


  4. Al:

    I would think they would make a heck of a target! Big and slow. The Germans discovered that in ww2, with their giant flying boats.

  5. Alberni Valley? Where the heck is Alberni Valley? Never heard of it. Oh, it's on Vancouver Island. That's just up the road from here. Huh.

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