1973: The Chinese Ministry of Aeronautics (MoA) began the theoretical evaluation on a next-generation supersonic tactical bomber aircraft intended to replace both the H-5 (IL-28 Beagle) light bomber and the Q-5 (Fantan) attacker in service with the PLAAF and PLAN. The development task was assigned to 603 Institute (Xi’an Aircraft Design Institute).
1974: A project team was set up by 603 Institute in early 1974 and team members were sent to the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and PLA Navy (PLAN) to discuss the requirements for the new bomber. After studying the specifications submitted by the PLAAF and PLAN, the MoA and 603 Institute concluded that it was possible to develop a single airframe with different weapon and avionics configurations to fulfil the requirements of both services, thus saving the development expenses and time.
February 1977: The State Council and the Central Military Commission jointly approved the new bomber development programme. 603 Institute was responsible for the general aircraft design, and 172 Factory (Xi’an Aircraft Facotry, now Xi’an Aircraft Corporation) was responsible for the aircraft manufacturing. The development of the aircraft’s engine was assigned to 430 Factory (Xi’an Aero Engine Factory, XAE). The aircraft was initially designated Hong-7 (H-7) in line with the Chinese bomber designations.
1980~1981: Like most defence projects in the early 1980s, the H-7 development was almost on a halt as economic development was given a higher priority in the state’s planning. Because the PLA desperately needed a replacement for its ageing H-5 bomber, in 1982 the Chinese leadership agreed to give high priority in funding and resource allocations to the H-7 project. The development project resumed full speed in 1984.
1984: To test the YJ-8 anti-ship missile and its fire-control system, 603 Institute converted an H-5 torpedo bomber into an aerial missile testbed known as “Eagle”.
1985: The H-7 programme faced to be cut again in 1985 but was revived in 1986.
1987: Six prototypes were produced by XAC, with one used for static testing and the rest flight testing.
1988: The H-7 was first revealed to the West during the 1988 Farnborough International Air Show, with a model of the aircraft displayed.
25 May 1987: A YJ-8 anti-ship missile was successfully launched from the “Eagle” testbed.
14 December 1988: The JH-7 made its maiden flight succsssfully. Due to the changing requirements and missions, the aircraft was given a new designation JH-7.
1992: A small number (~24) pre-production variant JH-7 was delivered to the PLA Naval Air Force (PLANAF) 6th Air Division based at Dachang Airbase. These aircraft have remained more involved with test and evaluation work than the operational activities.
1995: The JH-7 was first revealed to the public during the “Taiwan Strait Crisis” when the Chinese state television broadcasted footages of the aircraft in the PLA exercises near the Taiwan Strait.
1998: The JH-7 was officially certified for design finalisation. A JH-7 prototype attended the 1998 Zhuhai Air Show for the first time under the export name FBC-1 Flying Leopard.
1999: 603 Institute began to develop an improved variant JH-7A with upgraded avionics and weapon suite, possibly with some assistance from Russia.
2001: China imported an additional 50 ex-RAF surplus Spey Mk202 engines from Britain to support the production of 20 JH-7s in the formal production variant for the PLA Naval Aviation. This was due to the delay in producing a Chinese copy of the engine.
2003: WS-9 Qinling turbofan engine, a licensed copy of the Spey Mk202 which was certified for design finalisation.
Early 2004: The improved JH-7A entered service with the PLA Naval Aviation.
2004: The JH-7A enter service with the PLAAF, with about 20 examples delivered to the 28th Air Division.
Last update: 24 October 2008