Chengdu J-7 Fighter

Chinese Fishbed – Chengdu J-7

In March 1961 the Chinese government obtained a licence to build the MiG-21 F-13 fighter, its R11F-300 engine and the R-3S missile, and three complete aircraft and 20 CKD kits were obtained from the USSR in May 1962. The kits were assembled at the Shenyang Factory No. 112 and initially given PLAAF serials 1601 -1620. One of these, now with nose number 98071 and Soviet construction number 741623, was preserved at the PLAAF Museum at Datang Shan.

The Chinese claimed, strongly denied by the Soviets, that deliberate errors had been included into the technical information and documen­tation supplied for MiG-21 production. Whatever the truth of the matter, the factory started to reverse-engineer the product then known as Type 62 but later designated Shenyang J-7 (Jianjiji, fighter aircraft). The first flight of a J-7 entirely manufactured in China took place on 17th January 1965, the aircraft carrying no tactical code. The second prototype had the code ‘0002 Red’. Only about 12 J-7 production aircraft as distict from prototypes were built at Shenyang before the line was transferred to Chengdu. The Chinese aircraft differed from its Soviet counterpart in having a fixed air intake shock cone and was not yet able to use air-to-air missiles as none were available.

The Shenyang J-7 sans suffixe is charac­terised by the parabrake being located under the fuselage, MiG-21 F style.

Later in 1965 a decision was taken to transfer production to Factory No. 132 at Chengdu (sub­sequently renamed Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation, CAC) but the move got caught up with the Cultural Revolution (1966-1970) and progress was very slow but, more importantly, the product quality was poor. Production tentatively began in June 1967 and the Chengdu J-7 sans suffixe fighter took to the air on 16th June 1969. The first examples differed from the Shenyang product in having a small fairing covering equipment at the fin/fuselage junction; subsequent production J-7s featured a much larger fairing beneath the rudder to hold the parabrake; the Russian equivalent fairing had a more pointed shape. All J-7s sans suffixe had one cannon on the starboard side. A small production run was utilised by the PLAAF and the PL-2 air-to-air missiles (R-3S copies) were carried when they became available.

The slow development of the PL-2 missile persuaded the PLAAF to ask for a second Type 30-1 cannon to be fitted and at the same time a translating shock cone was introduced. The new variant was called Chengdu J-7 I (sometimes called J-7A In the West). By the end of 1971 only 60 J-7 Is had been built; they were given the nose numbers 1801-1860 at the time. Later they received three-, four- or five-digit tactical codes depending on their unit’s type. Both J-7 sans suffixe and J-71 variants had a one piece canopy hinged at the front.

In March 1985 the prototype of an improved J-7 II flew for the first time; it had new versatile missile launch rails which could carry all the types of ordnance then in use, obviating the need to change them when switching, for example, from missiles to bombs. Furthermore, the new development had the ability to fire Chinese-built PL-8 IR-homing air-to-air missiles and other improvements were also included: for example, a longer-life turbojet and a more robust undercarriage. These changes were subse­quently incorporated on the J-7 II production lines and the designation changed first to Chengdu J-7 IIH and was then abbreviated to Chengdu J-7H. 75 of this variant are reported to have been delivered.

An improved version of the J-7 II designated Chengdu J-7 IIA flew for the first time on 7th March 1984 as the F-7 IIA export variant; It had improved avionics and the nose probe was moved from the bottom to the top and offset to starboard. No official figures have been released of the number of J-7 IIs similarly converted but US sources suggest 225 in total, of which 180 were active in 2004.

Some J-7 IIs were brought up to F-7M Airguard standard in the 1980s and 1990s and designated Chengdu J-7M (sometimes referred to as the J-7 IIM). The main differences were the more efficient wings with four external stores hardpoints (the outer two were suitable for drop tanks), a better radar and the ability to use more modern missiles.

The Chinese government obtained six MiG-21 N/IF (izdeliye 96F) all-weather multi-role fighters from Egypt and in due course CAC reverse-engineered a copy of this later Soviet development. The prototype flew on 26th April 1984 as the Chengdu J-7 III, later redesignated Chengdu J-7C. About 50 (some sources say 150) were produced between 1985 and 1988. Due to their lack of BVR (beyond visual range) capability they were assigned to the ground attack role and received a special camouflage finish for this. Eventually some became night fighters in the 15th Air Division.

A specialised night fighter version of the J-7 III was designed and built in small quantities in the 1990s; about 50 were produced and designated Chengdu J-7D, at various times also referred to as the J-7 IV and J-7 IIIA.

A naval version of the J-7E known as the Chengdu J-7EH was developed for the PLANAF. Anti-shipping missiles such as the C-802 could be carried but the fighter’s own radar was not sophisticated enough to allow an independent attack and after the missile had been launched its targeting data had to be supplied by other types of aircraft, such as the Harbin SH-5 flying boat or the Shaanxi Y-8X maritime patrol aircraft.

A new development of the J-7E flew for the first time in 2002. Designated Chengdu J-7G, it had the new KLJ-6E ranging radar reputedly based on the Israeli Elta EL/M2001, a helmet- mounted sight for use with PL-8 air-to-air missiles and a more powerful turbojet; to compensate for extra weight one 30mm cannon was omitted. The prototype flew for the first time in June 2002 and production started in 2003, entering PLAAF in 2004. Sixteen were delivered to the 37th Air Division with codes in the 5xx8x series (4xx8x after June 2005) followed by 32 in November 2006 to the 12th Air Division with codes in the 2xx3x series.

Any J-7 and J-7 I fighters that survived until the early 1990s where withdrawn from service and many were converted into unmanned target drones.

An unarmed version of the J-7E equipped with a smotse generator was developed for the PLAAF’s ‘August 1 st’ aerobatic team and designated Chengdu J-7EB. One of the team’s aircraft had the c/n 7EB 0631 but its tactical code is not known.

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