Chinas stealth fighter makes its maiden test flight

Beijing: China`s radder evasive stealth fighter made its maiden test flight on Tuesday, making the country only the second nation after US to test such cutting edge technology.

The aircraft called J-20 took off from an airstrip at Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute just before 1300 hours and flew for about 20 minutes, the Wall Street Journal reported quoting eye witnesses.

The test flight came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates started the second day of his official visit to the country and was scheduled to meet President Hu Jintao. Gates has been dismissive of the Chinese arms build up and has said that development of stealth technology by China poses no threat to Washington.

Images and witness accounts were posted online of the twin engine plane making its epic maiden flight and on the ground surrounded by men in army overcoats, the paper said, adding that normally secretive People`s Army made no attempt to hide or remove the photos from the internet.

But the test flight was not immediately confirmed by the Chinese Defence Ministry or by the Air force.

The images of the J-20 inflight, WSJ said suggest Chins is making faster than expected progress in developing a potential rival to the US F-22 (Raptor), currently the world`s only fully operational stealth fighter.

The US is also using the stealth technology in production of the F-35 joint strike fighter. While the Indians and Russians have also carried out test flights of their stealth fighter based on Sukhoi T-50 jet.

Images of the apparent test flight were also reproduced by the website of the state-run Xinhua news agency and Global Times newspaper.

The Photos showed the new fighter taking off from an airbase with the older J-10 fighters giving it a chase.

While acknowledging that Chinese have made rapid strides in military technology, US experts say the fighter is many years away from actual deployment.

The experts said the Chinese military aviation still relied heavily on imported Russian technology and the new fighter could be efforts to upgrade the Russian Su-27 fighters of the Chinese Air Force.

They said that Beijing has developed two prototypes with one using Russian engine and the other indigenous one. It was not clear which version of the fighter took to the air today.