In early 1956 the Soviet Union agreed to licence production of the Tupolev Tu-16 medium bomber (NATO reporting name Badger) in China, called Xian H-6.
The Xian H-6, which first flew in April 1952 and entered Soviet Air Force service in February1954, represented the then-latest state of the art in Soviet bomber design. The Tu-16 had mid-set wings with moderate sweepback and conventional swept tail surfaces; the four-wheel bogies of the main landing gear units retracted aft, somersaulting through 180° to lie in large fairings projecting beyond the wing trailing edge. The powerplant consisted of two Mikulin RD-3M-500 axial-flow turbojets with a take-off thrust of 9,520 kgp (20,990 lbst) placed on the fuselage sides immediately aft of the rear wing spar so that the inlet ducts passed through the wing roots, the fuselage being ‘pinched’ in accordance with the area rule. The crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator/bomb-aimer (sitting in an extensively glazed nose), a dorsal gunner/radio operator sitting behind the pilots, plus two more gunners sitting in a separate pressure cabin in the rear fuselage. The defensive armament comprised three powered barbettes with twin 23-mm AM-23 cannons and a single fixed cannon of the same type in the nose.
The actual licence agreement for manufacture of the Tu-16 was signed in September 1957. Under the terms of this, China received two production Tu-16 bombers as pattern aircraft, a further two aircraft in the form of a semi-knocked-down (SKD) kit and a CKD kit, essential for mastering the assembly of the first examples, and a set of blanks and raw materials for parts manufacture together with the necessary technical documentation. All of this was supplied by plant No. 22 in Kazan’, the main manufacturer of the type.
In 1959 the decision was taken to begin licence production in China, and in the same year a large technical team left the USSR for China to assist in setting up series production. It remained in China until the autumn of 1960.
The Bureau of Aircraft Industry (BAI) allocated two factories in Harbin and Xian for Tu-16 production. A major reconstruction of the Harbin Aircraft Factory, in the course of which the shop floor area was doubled, began in 1958; the plant received assistance in the form of 200 qualified workers seconded from the Shenyang Aircraft Factory. In May 1959 the Harbin plant took delivery of the two Tu-16 pattern aircraft and the CKD kit, and assembly of a bomber from the kit began immediately. The first Chinese Tu-16 was assembled in just 67 days (28th June – 3rd September), making its maiden flight on 27th September 1959, and was handed over to the PLAAF that December.
In 1958 the large aircraft factory at Xian was completed, and to assist in Tu-16 production there 1,040 skilled technical and engineering staff and 1,697 other workers were transferred from Shenyang. In 1961 the BAI decided to concentrate all work on the Tu-16 at the Xian factory so that the Harbin plant could concentrate on the H-5; the transfer of production took place in 1962-64. The Chinese licence-built version was briefly designated Feilong-201 (Flying Dragon-201) but became the Xian H-6 in 1964. The RD-3M-500 was built under licence at the Xian Engine Factory (with assistance from the Harbin and Shenyang plants) as the WP-8.
In 1964 the plant began manufacturing the jigs and tooling for series production of the H-6; new production methods differing from the Soviet ones were used, including explosive forming and epoxy resin male moulds instead of metal ones. In October 1966 the first airframe assembled from Chinese parts was finished, one year ahead of schedule; it underwent static tests at the BAI’s Aircraft Structure Analysis Research Institute in December 1968.
On 24th December 1968 the first Xian- built production H-6 bomber completely manufactured in China (with Chinese-made WP-8 engines) made its first flight. The crew was commanded by test pilot Li Yuanyi, with Xu Wenhong as co-pilot. After this, full-scale production of the Xian H-6 in China got under way.
The reason that it took so long to establish H-6 in production in China was the disorganisation of the Chinese aircraft industry caused by the spread of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. A lot of design documentation was lost during the transfer of production from Harbin to Xian, and it took forever to restore it.
The London Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that approximately 120 Xian H-6 bombers in various versions had been built up to 1987 when production was interrupted. It was resumed several years later.
The standard Xian H-6 was 34.8 m (114 ft 2 in) long and 9.85 m (32 ft 3 in) high, with a wing span of 34.2 m (112 ft 2 in). The normal and maximum take-off weight were 72,000 kg (158,730 lb) and 75,800 kg (167,110 lb) respectively; the bomber could carry a normal weapons load of 3,000 kg (6,610 lb) and a maximum weapons load of 9,000 kg (19,840 lb). The maximum fuel load was 33,000 kg (72,750 lb). The H-6 attained a maximum speed of 1,014 km/h (630 mph) at 6,250 m (20,500 ft), a cruising speed of 786 km/h (488 mph) or Mach 0.75 and a service ceiling of 13,100 m (42,980 ft). The ferry range was 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and the combat radius was 1,800 km (1,120 miles).