The FC-1 fighter was to commence flight tests in 1998, but the programme schedule repeatedly slipped due to technical and funding problems. Among other things, the Pakistan Air Force (PAP) revised its technical requirement, demanding higher performance, while western countries were reluctant to supply advanced avionics.
The first prototype FC-1 (’01 Red’, c/n 01) was rolled out at Chengdu on 31st May 2003. On 1st July the aircraft began high-speed taxi runs. The 15-minute maiden flight took place on 25th August; on 3rd September the FC-1 made its official debut. ’01 Red’ (later ’01 Black’) was earmarked for flight performance testing and lacked the mission avionics.
Airframe c/n 02 was the static test article. The second prototype (c/n 03) featuring some minor modifications in aerodynamic design first flew on 9th April 2004, followed by the third prototype (’04 Red’, c/n 04) in April 2006. This was the first example with a full avionics suite. The fourth prototype (c/n 05) was to be used for evaluating the SY-80 radar developed by the Aviation Radar and Electrical Equipment Institute (AREEI; ex-LETRI) as a competitor to the KLJ-10 radar.
Pakistan has been pressuring China into accepting the FC-1 fighter for PLAAF service in order to increase the production run and reduce the unit costs; this was supported by the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC). The Chinese military are opposed to that, believing that equipping the Air Force with two types of fighter planes with similar performance within the same time period would both consume limited financial resources and complicate logistical support for dissimilar aircraft.
CAC and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex were to begin joint production of an initial 16 aircraft in 2006 but production was delayed. Then, in January 2007 Russia threw a spanner in the works, disallowing the transfer of RD-93 engines to third countries – a move that suited India which was at odds with Pakistan. Yet, in April 2007 Vladimir Putin reversed this decision.
The first two production JF-17s were delivered to the PAF in March 2007, six more following in March 2008; these aircraft are now used for operational evaluation. Pakistani production of JF-17 components started in January 2008. The PAF selected the Grifo S-7 radar for its JF-17s but agreed to accept the KLJ-10 radar in the first batch of aircraft. Pakistan plans to acquire up to 150 aircraft. Nations that have reportedly evinced an interest in the FC-1 fighter are Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Sudan.
The FC-1 fighter (or JF-17) is 14.7 m (48 ft 3 in) long and 4.8 m (15 ft 9 in) high, with a wing span of 9,5 m (31 ft 2 in); the wing area is 24.4 sq m (262.6 sq ft). The fighter has an empty weight of 6,450 kg (14,220 lb), an internal fuel load of 2,300 kg (5,071 lb) and an ordnance load of 3,600 kg (7,937lb); the normal and maximum take-off weight is 9,100 kg (20,060 lb) and 12,400 kg (27,337 lb) respectively. The maximum wing loading is 520.5 kg/m2 (106.61 Ib/sq ft), while the maximum power loading is 1.53 kg/kgp (Ib/lbst). The aircraft has a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, a service ceiling of 16,000 m (52,495 ft), a maximum range on internal fuel of 1,800 km (1,118 miles) and a combat radius of 1,200 km (745 miles) in counter-air configuration and 700 km (435 miles) in strike configuration. The take-off and landing run are 450 m (1,480 ft) and 750m (2,460ft). The airframe is stressed for 8Gs.