An AG600 prototype is in a flight test. [Photo provided to chindaily.com.cn]

Aviation Industry Corp of China, the State-owned aviation conglomerate, announced on Saturday that it plans to start sea-based flight tests of its AG600 seaplane in Qingdao, East China’s Shandong province, in the second half of this year.

By now, an AG600 prototype has made 172 preparatory flights that lasted 308 hours. The project team is working with related authorities in Qingdao, an eastern coastal city, in making plans on the first sea-based takeoff and landing tests, the company said in a statement.

There are two AG600 prototypes under testing – one is for flight tests and the other is for ground-based static tests. The company will soon start construction on four additional prototypes of the AG600 for testing, according to designers.

Development of the AG600 was approved by the central government in June 2009. More than 10,000 researchers and engineers from hundreds of domestic institutes, enterprises and universities took part in the AG600 program. Construction of the first prototype began in March 2014 and was completed in July 2016.

The seaplane made its maiden flight in December 2017 in Zhuhai in South China’s Guangdong province, taking off and landing at an airport. Ten months later, it carried out the first water-based takeoff and landing on the Zhanghe Reservoir in Jingmen, Central China’s Hubei province.

With a length of 37 meters and a wingspan of 38.8 meters, the AG600 is roughly the size of a Boeing 737. Powered by four domestically designed WJ-6 turboprop engines, it has a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 metric tons. These specifications make it the world’s biggest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia’s Beriev Be-200.

The AG600 will mainly be tasked with performing aerial firefighting and maritime search and rescue. It also can be refitted to conduct marine environmental inspections and marine resource surveys, as well as personnel and supply transportation, the company said.

The aircraft is designed for both land and water takeoffs and landings and has an operational range of about 4,500 kilometers. It is capable of carrying 50 people during a maritime search and rescue mission.

When assigned to fight forest fires, it can collect 12 tons of water from a lake or sea in 20 seconds and then use the water to douse blazes over an area of about 4,000 square meters, the company said.