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CPC Encyclopedia


The Y-20, China's first domestically made jumbo air freighter, held a successful test flight on Saturday, Jan 26, 2013. [Photo by Chen Xiao/Xinhua]

The Y-20 (in simplified Chinese 运-20) is China's first domestically developed heavy air freighter that can perform various long-distance transportation tasks. The large military transport aircraft is believed to have been developed by Xi'an Aircraft Industry, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China, the major military aircraft manufacturer. The Y-20 held a successful test flight on Saturday, Jan 26, 2013.

The official codename of the aircraft is Kunpeng, named after a legendary bird in Chinese mythology that can fly thousands of kilometers.

General characteristics of Y-20 and its peers around the world


The Y-20, with a crew of three, has a maximum payload of 66 metric tons and a maximum takeoff weight of more than 200 tons, China Youth Daily quoted military sources as saying. The high payload means the aircraft can fly the heaviest tank of the PLA - the 58-ton Type-99A2.

Carrying a payload of up to 55 tons, the Y-20 is able of flying to destinations 4,500 km away from China, such as Guam in the western Pacific Ocean or Egypt, and if accompanied by a tanker aircraft it can even fly 9,600 km to Angola in southern Africa or Sydney in Australia, military analysts said.

Payload: 66 metric tons 

Length: 47 m 

Wingspan: 50 m

Height: 15 m 

Maximum takeoff weight: 220 metric tons 

Maximum speed: >700 km per hour

Range: >7,800 km

Powerplant: 4 × imported D-30KP-2 

World's major military transport aircrafts

Large strategic air freighters in active service around the world include the Antonov An-225, the Ilyushin Il-76 and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.


    Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (United States)

    Payload: 78 metric tons

    Length: 53.1 m

    Wingspan: 51.8 m

    Height: 16.8 m

    Maximum takeoff weight: 265 metric tons

    Maximum speed: 830 km per hour

    Range: 11,600 km

    Powerplant: 4 × Hewlett-Packard F117-PW-100 profans

    Ilyushin Il-76 (Russia)

    Payload: 50 metric tons

    Length: 46.6 m

    Wingspan: 50.5 m

    Height: 14.7 m

    Maximum takeoff weight: 170 metric tons

    Maximum speed: 860 km per hour

    Range: 7,800 km

    Powerplant: 4 × D-30KP profans

    Antonov An-70 (co-developed by Ukraine and Russia)

   Payload: 35 metric tons

    Length: 40.55 m

    Wingspan: 44.06 m

    Height: 16.20 m

    Maximum takeoff weight: 130 metric tons

    Maximum speed: 800 km per hour

    Range: 7,800 km

    Powerplant: 4 × Progress D-27 propfans

    Antonov An-225 (Ukraine)  

    Payload: 250 metric tons

    Length: 84 m

    Wingspan: 88.40 m

    Height: 18.10 m

    Maximum takeoff weight: 600 metric tons

    Maximum speed: 850 km per hour

    Range: 14,000 km

    Powerplant: 6 × ZMKB Progress D-18 propfans

    Antonov An-124 (Ukraine)

    Payload: 229 metric tons

    Length: 68.96 m

    Wingspan: 73.3 m

    Height: 20.78 m

    Maximum takeoff weight: 405 metric tons

    Maximum speed: 865 km per hour

    Range: 16,500 km

    Powerplant: 4 × Lotarev D-18 propfans

   Antonov An-22 (co-developed by Russia and Ukraine)

Payload: 80 metric tons

Length: 64.40 m

Wingspan: 57.92 m

Height: 12.53 m

Maximum takeoff weight: 250 metric tons

Maximum speed: 740 km per hour

Range: 10,950 km

Powerplant: 4 × Kuznetsov NK-12MA turboprops

C-5 Galaxy (United States)

Payload: 118 metric tons

Length: 75.3 m

Wingspan: 67.89 m

Height: 19.84 m

Maximum takeoff weight: 380 metric tons

Maximum speed: 917 km per hour

Range: 10,411 km

Powerplant: 4 ×General Motors TF39-1 profans

Airbus A400M Atlas (Europe)

Payload: 38 metric tons

Length: 43.8 m

Wingspan: 42.4 m

Height: 14.6 m

Maximum takeoff weight: 141 metric tons

Maximum speed: 740 km per hour

Range: 9,300 km

Powerplant: 4 × Europrop TP400-D6 turboprop 

XC-2 (Japan)

Payload: 37 metric tons

Length: 43.9 m

Wingspan: 44.4 m

Height: 14.2 m

Maximum takeoff weight: 141 metric tons

Maximum speed: 890 km per hour

Range: 10,950 km

Powerplant: 2 × General Motors CF6-80C2 profans

History of development

Sources said the Y-20 began to be developed in the early 1990s. In 2006 it was listed in a national mid- and long-term technological development plan. In 2009, a senior executive at the Aviation Industry Corp of China told Chinese media the design of a "200-ton military aircraft" had been completed and production of prototypes had begun.

Photos of the Y-20 began to circulate on Chinese military websites on Dec 24, 2012, leading to speculation that the air freighter would soon conduct its first test flight.

Three days later, Yang Yujun, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, confirmed at a news conference that China is "developing a large transport aircraft on our own to improve the capability of air transport".


Once in service, the Y-20 will significantly strengthen the PLA's long-range transport capability, which has been plagued for many years by the absence of a domestically developed strategic air freighter.

The PLA air force now has a transport fleet that mainly consists of the Y-7, the Y-8 and their variants.

The Y-7 is designed and made based on the Soviet-designed Antonov An-24 series, and the Y-8 is based on the Antonov An-12. Both have relatively light payloads and cannot carry heavy-duty armored vehicles and tanks.

There is also an unknown but presumably small number of Ilyushin Il-76 large air freighters in the air force, enabling the PLA to conduct strategic transport and disaster-relief missions.

"The Ilyushin Il-76 was developed by the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and has largely lagged behind in terms of technology and functions, but China has no other choice but to continue buying it," Peng Yue, a military observer, wrote in Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong-based newspaper. He noted that the unreliable supply of Ilyushin Il-76 from Russia has constrained China's production of a large, airborne early-warning and control system, which is installed on a modified Ilyushin IL-76 airframe.

Compared with the Russian airplane, the Y-20 is much more technically advanced in almost all areas, but due to the comparatively conservative aerodynamic design and the lack of a domestically developed engine, it still cannot rival the US' Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, experts said.

"The United States Air Force has more than 350 large air freighters with a minimum payload of 50 tons, while the Russian Air Force has 368 strategic air freighters. I think the biggest gap between the PLA and them in terms of conventional arsenal lies in the strategic transport capability," Peng said.

He said the Y-20 will not only improve the Chinese military's power projection and rapid deployment capabilities but also provide a reliable platform for domestically developed early warning and control, aerial refueling, and anti-submarine aircraft.

"The strategic importance of the Y-20 is even bigger than the J-20 stealth fighter jet and the aircraft carrier," he said.  


1. Y-20 gives air power a push. China Daily. Jan 28, 2013.

2. New transport aircraft to aid military drive. China Daily. Dec 28, 2012.

3. Powerful military cargo planes around the world. Xinhua. Jan 28, 2013.

4. (Chinese) Y-20 among world's top 10 most powerful military transport aircraft. Xinhua. Jan 27, 2013.