The Shenyang J-8 is Chinese high-performance fighter-interceptor aircraft.
On 25th October 1964 the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment held a conference on the issues of high-performance fighter development. At the conference the Shenyang-based No. 601 Research Institute floated two concepts. One of them envisaged building a twin-turbojet aircraft that was, in effect, a scaled-up MiG-21F and employed the latter aircraft’s design features. This concept, which received the designation Shenyang J-8, offered the advantage of a low technical risk and earlier service entry and was therefore accorded higher priority by Tang Yanjie, President of the CAE. The target performance figures included a top speed of Mach 2.2, a service ceiling of at least 20,000 m (65,620 ft), a maximum climb rate of 200 m/sec (39,360 ft/min), a basic range of 1,500 km (931 miles) and a maximum range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles). The aircraft was to be capable of prolonged aerial combat at 19,000 m (62,340 ft).
The Shenyang J-8 was a fairly large aircraft having mid-set cropped-delta wings and a conventional swept tail unit featuring stabilators; both the wings and the stabilators had 60° leading-edge sweep and were positioned somewhat lower as compared to the J-7. The vertical tail was augmented by twin canted ventral fins whose shape resembled the J-7’s single ventral fin. Two Liyang (LMC) WP-7B turbojets rated at 6,100 kgp (13,450 Ibst) in full afterburner were housed side by side in the rear fuselage, with a MiG-19 style ‘pen nib’ fairing between the nozzles. The fighter had an axisymmetric nose air intake with a small fully adjustable shock cone; a pair of rectangular auxiliary blow-in doors was located immediately ahead of the wings to prevent surge at take-off power. The rear fuselage was detachable for engine maintenance and change. In common with the J-7 and J-7 I, the one-piece cockpit canopy was hinged at the front, doubling as a slipstream shield during ejection. The landing gear design was also borrowed wholesale – the nose unit retracted forward, the main units inward, the wheels rotating to stow vertically beside the inlet ducts. There were three ventral airbrakes positioned in the same way as on the J-7 (two ahead of the wings and one aft of them).
The armament consisted of two Type 30-1 (NR-30) cannons with 200 rpg buried in the fuselage below the cockpit; two external stores pylons were provided under the wings and a third on the centreline for carrying up to 2,500 kg (5,510 lb) of external stores. The centreline and outermost pylons were plumbed for carrying 1,400-litre (308 Imp gal) and 800- litre (176 Imp gal) drop tanks respectively. The air intake centrebody housed a radar rangefinder. An SM-8 gunsight was fitted. Overall the Shenyang J-8 bore a certain resemblance to the Mikoyan Ye-152A experimental interceptor (NATO reporting name Flipper) but the proportions were rather different, with a slim, pencil-like fuselage.
Originally Huang Zhiqian was the Shenyang J-8’s chief designer; after his death in an aircraft crash in May 1965 he was succeeded by Wang Nanshou, who together with Ye Zhenda managed to complete the design work by September that year. A full-size mock-up was built and reviewed in December; the Shenyang Aircraft Factory was tasked with completing development by the end of 1966.
In August 1967 the factory began construction of two prototypes; the first of these, ‘001 Red’, was completed in June 1968. The work proceeded slowly because the aircraft were built almost clandestinely. On 19th December the first prototype began taxi tests; yet nose gear shimmy during a high-speed run resulted in an accident in which the aircraft was damaged. Following repairs, the Shenyang J-8 made its first flight successfully on 5th July 1969 with Yin Yuhuan at the controls. Yet, shortly afterwards the flight test team and the Joint Flight Test Command were surprisingly disbanded, as was the chief design office in Shenyang – another effect of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The programme came to an almost complete standstill.
The original Shenyang J-8 was obsolescent even as it entered flight test because its avionics and equipment did not meet the then-current requirements. Hence in February 1978 the designers of the reborn design bureau in Shenyang launched an upgrade programme. Known initially as the Shenyang J-8 I (and ultimately redesignated J-8A), the updated interceptor differed from the original aircraft in the following ways. Firstly, an SR-4 (Type 204) fire control radar – the first indigenously developed aircraft radar – was installed in the air intake centrebody, replacing the inadequate radar rangefinder. Secondly, the original crew escape system was replaced by a new Type 2 ejection seat and a two-piece canopy with a fixed windshield and an aft-hinged portion (in the same manner as on the J-7 II). Thirdly, the armament was beefed up by replacing the Type 30-1 cannons with a pair of Type 23-111 (GSh-23L) double-barrelled cannons – again with 200 rpg – and integrating PL-4 AAMs, of which four could be carried.
The planned changes were endorsed by the State Certification Commission on 2nd March 1980, even though neither the radar nor the missile were ready for service yet. The first prototype Shenyang J-8 I was completed in May 1980, commencing ground tests. However, on 25th June the programme suffered a major setback when the prototype was lost in the course of the very first engine run – a burst hydraulic line in the engine bay caused a massive fire which destroyed the aircraft completely. This brought about a major rework of the hydraulic system on subsequent Shenyang J-8s, delaying the programme by a full year.
The second prototype made its maiden flight on 24th April 1981 with Lu Mindong at the controls, followed in October by the third prototype. A further J-8 I airframe completed static tests in July 1983.
The three-and-a-half-year test programme was completed in November 1984. On 27th July 1985 the Shenyang J-8 I was cleared for production. The intended PL-4 AAM could not be brought up to scratch and was cancelled eventually, so the production fighters had to make do with PL-2B or PL-5 AAMs; pods with 55-mm or 90- mm FFARs could be fitted for strike missions. The fighter’s performance fell short of the then-current world standards, and J-8 I production was terminated in 1987 after 100 or so had been built.