A new drone with folding wings currently on display at the Zhuhai Airshow has sparked excited rumors among China’s military and aviation buffs. Some believe the new model is further proof that future aircraft carriers of the Chinese Navy could be equipped with powerful electromagnetic catapults.

Now Chinese state papers including the Global Times have joined the speculation, claiming that the drone, codenamed HK-5000G, is tailor-made for medium- and high-altitude long endurance missions to complement a carrier strike group.

The HK-5000G has been developed by the aeromarine intelligent equipment unit under the umbrella of the state-owned conglomerate China Shipbuilding Industry Corp.

What has piqued interest is the folding wing design, as virtually all aircraft aboard a carrier have folding or shortened wings to suit the limited below-deck storage space on aircraft carriers.

A deputy manager of the company’s research and development arm said the five-ton drone was designed to be a vessel-based reconnaissance drone capable of missions of up to 12 hours, with a payload for reconnaissance flights as well as complementary assaults. However, he refused to give details about its specifications as the aircraft remains at prototype stage and could undergo modifications.

The Global Times noted in its report that the CSIC deputy manager had confirmed that the HK-5000G was intended for China’s future carriers, adding that the team conducted aircraft-vessel adaptation experiments including takeoffs from and landings on big vessels.

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A close-up of the uptick bow of the Chinese-made Type 001A carrier. Photo: Weibo
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An artist’s impression of the future Type 003 carrier created by Chinese military fans. The next generation carriers have a flat flight deck. Photo: Handout

“Given the HK-5000G’s size and weight, it has to use a catapult, as a ski jump takeoff from an upward-curved ramp on the bow of the Liaoning or her sister ship the Type 001A is not feasible,” he said.

Rumors are rife that the third carrier of the People’s Liberation Army, believed to be under construction at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, will feature a flattop design mounted with electromagnetic catapults, though the warship will still be conventionally powered.

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