Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.
In order to instill a sense of power, you need to put on an impressive face. And in order to do so, you need to inspire awe to the lesser beings. Yet putting on a scary face could be a daunting task sometimes, especially now in the world of online information where anyone could easily expose you. And when you are a totalitarian state, intimidation is everything as it helps control your subjects with an iron fist. Fear is power, because a fearless subjects could drain a tyrant of its strength. That’s why it would go to a certain level to maintain such power, whatever it takes.
In the case of The People’s Republic of China, it needs all the propaganda machinery to give it the aura of a growling tiger. It has everything, from state-controlled media to the lesser trolls in internet forums. But even the best means of saber rattling could fail, and when it does the result is embarrassing. I mean, did you know that the Chinese state media once mistaken a Gundam for a real weapon?
And one day, the Mainland China, with its mouthpiece the Global Times had something to show to the world. They want everyone to know that it has the technological might to beat the west. But it never worked the way they planned in the end.
The Chinese Flying Saucer
It all started just before the pandemic, last 2019, during the 5th China Helicopter Exposition. An image circulated from the said event showed this strange object the shape of a car wheel, only without the threads. Turns out this was no props from an alien B-movie, but a mock-up of an actual vehicle (or a demonstrator).
The expo was run by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Ground force, and going back to the strange vehicle, the Global Times claimed that people are actually looking at the next big thing in aviation. It was a “sci-fi-like aircraft,” an attack helicopter shaped like a flying saucer. It had an equally goofy sounding name, the “Super Great White Shark,” and was set to make a maiden flight in early 2020 (though China wasn’t expecting something horrible coming their way that year).
The thing was a 20-foot-long flying saucer powered by a coaxial rotor system that provided vertical lift. A pair of turbojets provided horizontal thrust to propel it forward. The cockpit siat in the middle, housing two pilots, and a set of rudders under the rotor system provided control.
And according to the Global Times, it could go at 400 miles an hour and fly at 18000 feet, faster and higher than normal attack helicopters. Its black body was coated with stealth materials for radar evasion.
It seems that China had a flying saucer at their disposal, with capabilities exceeding any western gunships. This should be a concern for the West, yet up until now, the Chinese flying saucer was never taken seriously. Turns out that the West once played with the concept of weaponized flying saucer, with very little success.
Decades before, the West had a different communist rival. The Soviet Union was developing and testing advanced weaponries of their own, and the West never wanted to be left out in the Cold War. Hence, they toyed with various designs and technologies no matter how unconventional it was. Overall, the Cold War forced both sides to think outside the box, and they ended up with ideas both terrifying, ingenious and peculiar all the same. One of them was the circular Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) vehicles, or basically a functioning flying saucer that could hover. What the West hoped to achieve back then was a high performance and flexible vehicle. For the Army, a flying saucer design could fulfill the role of an all-terrain troop transport and reconnaissance aircraft. The Air Force on the other hand saw the circular VTOL as a supersonic vehicle that could hover below radar.
And this gave birth to vehicles, like the Avrocar VZ-9.
We could say that concept-wise, the VZ-9 was the great-grandfather of the Chinese Super Great White Shark. But the idea of a circular VTOL dates back in 1956. How come we are yet to see an active production model? Turns out that the flying saucer VTOL looks good on paper, but never in real life.
It Was an Awkward Machine
Firstly, do note that these contraptions are nothing special or exotic. Despite their sci-fi-like visage, circular VTOL are basically just propellers and shrouds. It was assumed that a shrouded fan will provide a lot of thrusts, not to mention to protect the passerby from injuries. But actual tests with scale models showed that these flying saucers have a tendency to become unstable, just by flying a few feet off the ground. The aircraft was also incapable of reaching supersonic speed, and wind tunnel tests proved that these flying saucers were unstable and hard to control.
But that didn’t stop the production of the second Avrocar prototype, but flying these vehicles yielded the same failed results. It only reached a maximum speed of 35 mph, and it displayed uncontrollable pitch and roll (hubcapping).
In the end, instead of a high-speed aircraft that could hover below radar, or an all-terrain transport and reconnaissance vehicle, what the Army and the Airforce got is an awkward vehicle that could barely fly, unstable, and slow. It wasn’t a surprise that the project got scrapped.
The Chinese Flying Saucer was also a Joke
2020 came and went, but still, there are no Chinese flying saucers in the sky like what the Global Times claimed. For one thing, though futuristic, they never specified how their vehicle could go fast or stealthy. For another, they never mentioned that the design was problematic, nor they solved the problems that plagued the circular VTOL of the U.S. And to cap it all, the reason why there are no working prototypes up to date, is simply because the Chinese developers never managed to come up with one. It never flew in 2020, because it can’t.
And Global Times admitted.
Chinese military experts noted that the flying saucer is highly experimental, and won’t be flying anytime soon. And with lack of progress up to now, it seems that it will go the way of the U.S. Avrocar and just become a propaganda toy for China.
- Grossman, David (14-October 2019). "China Built a Flying Saucer." Popular Mechanics.
- Axe, David. (15-October 2019) "China's Flying Saucer Aircraft Is Sort of a Scam." The National Interest.