A competing design to Shenyang under the light fighter programme was offered by the Nanchang Aircraft Factory. The aircraft was designated Nanchang J-12. Lu Xiaopeng, Vice-Director of the factory’s design department, was the project chief.
The Nanchang J-12 resembled a scaled-down version of the North American F-100 Super Sabre with some typical MiG features incorporated. The moderately swept wings were low-set, featuring a kinked trailing edge and a single tall boundary layer fence on each side at two- thirds span; the tail unit comprised a sharply swept trapezoidal fin (plus a ventral fin) and low-set moderately swept stabilators. The aft- hinged canopy with a wraparound windshield was faired into a shallow fuselage spine. The single 4,050-kgp (8,930-lbst) WP-6B non- afterburning turbojet housed in the rear fuselage breathed through a circular nose intake similar to that of the MiG-19 but having sharp lips. The nose gear unit retracted forward, the main units inward into the fuselage (the landing gear was similar to that of the J-6). The armament consisted of two 30-mm cannons buried in the wing roots.
In contrast with the Shenyang J-11, the normal takeoff weight was a mere 4,550 kg (10,030 lb). This was due to the aircraft’s small dimensions and to the large-scale use of titanium alloy, chemical milling and honeycomb structures. Thus, the Nanchang J-12 was not just a light fighter but a bantam fighter.
The work proceeded at a remarkably fast pace. Development began in July 1969; the concept was finalised in August 1969 and prototype manufacturing started at the end of the year. Serialled ’01 Red’, the first prototype made its maiden flight on 26th December 1970; it was followed by the second prototype (’02 Red’) and a static test article.
The tests ran surprisingly smoothly and the results were generally encouraging; the aircraft was more agile than the J-6. On 10th September 1973 the Nanchang J-12 was demonstrated to senior Chinese politicians and military officials at Nan Yuan airbase near Beijing.
The original version was 10.644 m (34 ft 11 in) long less pitotand 3.706 m (12 ft 1 in) high, with a wing span of 7.192 m (23 ft 7 in) and a wing area of 16 sq m (172 sq ft). The empty weight was 3,172 kg (6,993 lb) and the maximum TOW was 5,295 kg (11,673 lb). Maximum level speed at 11,000 m (36,090 ft) was 1,472 km/h (914 mph), the service ceiling was 16,870 m (55,350 ft), the maximum rate of climb was 180 m/sec (3,540 ft/min) and the maximum range on internal fuel was estimated as 1,167 km (725 miles). The take-off run was 450 m (1,480 ft).
The customer was dissatisfied with the fighter’s performance, demanding improvements. Hence the Nanchang Aircraft Factory under- took a redesign of the Nanchang J-12. Occasionally referred to as the J-12 I or J-12A, the revised fighter had an area-ruled fuselage and a new air intake featuring a fixed shock cone similar to that of the J-7; this increased the overall length less pitot to 10.665 m (34 ft 11 in). The pitot boom on top of the nose was relocated to a ventral position, folding upward to avoid ground damage (likewise in the manner of the J-7). Provisions were made for carrying two PL-2 AAMs.
Again, three Nanchang J-12s were built in the new configuration, including ‘145 Red’ and ‘7112 Red’. The ‘second maiden flight’ took place in July 1975; by January 1977 the J-12 I had logged 61 hours 12 minutes in 135 test flights. A top speed of Mach 1.386 and a service ceiling of 17,410 m (57,120 ft) were reached. Yet it was clear that the lightly armed Nanchang J-12 with its relatively low performance would be unable to offer serious opposition to contemporary strike aircraft. Therefore in February 1978 the government finally pulled the plug on the programme.