An Aussie's travels to air shows, aviation museums and more around the world
Myanmar’s Chinese Combat Aircraft
Following independence in 1948, Burma which was renamed Myanmar by the military government in 1989, operated mostly British, European and American designed aircraft in its Air Force such as the Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX and Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 fighters in the 1950’s and Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Star attack capable trainers in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the 1990’s the nation was politically isolated from the west and wanted to update its aircraft inventory.
Between 1990 and 2000, the Peoples Republic of China stepped in and supplied aircraft to Myanmar. These included 56 Chengu F-7IIK Airguard fighters and 6 FT-7 two-seat combat trainer variants, 36 to 48 Nanchang A-5IIK Fantan attack aircraft and 16 Shenyang F-6 Farmer fighter-bombers and FT-6M two seat combat trainers. These types have been used in combat against various insurgent groups within Myanmar.
Examples of these combat aircraft types can today be seen at the sprawling Myanmar Defence Services Museum in the capital of Nay Pyi Taw. On display in the museum airpark are a pair of Chengdu F-7IIK Airguard’s (1623 and 1633 – 24 remain in Myanmar Air Force service), a Shenyang FT-6M Farmer (3803 – all are retired) and a pair of Nanchang A-5IIK Fantan’s (1520 and 1524 – 21 remain in service).
The Chengdu F-7IIK Airguard fighter is an export variant of the F-7M (J-7), which was one of various Chinese licence built variants of the Soviet Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21F Fishbed (over 2,400 Chinese variants were produced between 1965 and 2013 for the Chinese PLAAF and for export). 36 of the Myanmar Air Force examples were later upgraded in Israel with an improved radar and weapons systems to replace Chinese avionics.
The Shenyang F-6/FT-6, an export version of the Chinese J-6/JJ-6 Farmer is more or less a Chinese licence built direct clone of the Soviet Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-19 Farmer. The type was introduced into Chinese PLAAF service in 1962 and continued to be operated until the late 1990’s. Over 4,500 J-6/JJ-6 and export F-6/FT-6 aircraft were produced between 1958 and 1986. Pakistan and North Korea were also major operators of the type. Today only North Korea continues to fly the F-6 in frontline service.
The Soviets did not see it as necessary to progress too far with the two-seat variants of the MiG-19 but China developed the FT-6 by lengthening the fuselage of the F-6 by 84 cm to accommodate the instructors seat. 2 additional ventral strakes were added to the rear fuselage to improve stability and armament was reduced to 1 x 30mm cannon under the nose. The 2 wing root 30mm cannons of the F-6/MiG-19 were removed to add additional fuel tanks in their bays to make up for the loss of fuel capacity with the addition of a second seat.
The Nanchang A-5IIK is an export version of the Chinese Q-5 Fantan attack aircraft. The type first flew in 1965 and was introduced into Chinese PLAAF service in 1970 (now all retired). Approximately 1,300 were produced for China and export customers (Bangladesh and Pakistan have retired their examples but the type continues to operated in Myanmar, North Korea and Sudan).
Seeing the FT-6M alongside the A-5IIK’s, there is no doubting that the A-5 was developed from the F-6/FT-6. The most notable difference with the Nanchang A-5 from the F-6/MiG-19 is obviously the nose cone (designed to accommodate a targeting radar that was never fitted by the Chinese!) and side air intakes but new wings were added with greater area, the tail fin is longer and the fuselage itself was lengthened to accommodate an internal weapons bay (the total length of the A-5 is 15.65 metres as compared to 12.54 metres for the F-6).
The two Liming Wopen-6A afterburning turbojet engines fitted to the A-5 Fantan remained the same as the F-6 (a Chinese variant of the Soviet Turmansky RD-9). The modifications to the airframe and wings were made under the area rule principle and only marginally detracted from the A-5’s performance at high-altitude whilst retaining similar low-altitude speed when compared to the F-6 (which is where an attack aircraft is mostly going to fly).
A-5 armament consists of two wing root mounted 23mm cannons, 1,000 kg of bombs, rockets or air to air missiles on the wing and fuselage weapons pylons and 1,000 kg of bomb ordnance in the weapons bay (although given the notoriously short-range of the MiG-19 and its variants this bay can be used to carry an additional fuel tank). This was a huge increase on the 250kg carried by the F-6 on four wing pylons!
Overall a visit to the rarely visited Defence Services Museum, in the rarely visited capital of Nay Pyi Taw is well worth it. I had never personally seen the Shenyang FT-6 or Nanchang A-5, so it was fantastic to see both side by side amongst other more familiar airframes!
In the 2000’s Myanmar turned to Russia for aircraft and today the primary combat aircraft of the Myanmar Air Force is the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum multi-role fighter. In 2001 they purchased 10 single seat MiG-29B and 2 MiG-29UB two-seat trainers. In 2009 an additional 10 MiG-29B, 6 MiG-29SE Fulcrum C and 4 MiG-29UB trainers, bringing the total number purchased to 32 MiG-29’s of which 31 remain in service.