Russia’s Altair vs China’s Water Dragon : Which One Is Better ?

The idea to use the water surface for take-off and landing came to the designers a little after the flight of the Wright brothers. That’s how seaplanes came in. Their heyday came in the interwar period – the so-called “Golden Age of Aviation.” But the development of jet aviation after the Second World War led to a decrease in interest in seaplanes. Today they are most often found in small aviation. Depending on the design features, there are three types of seaplanes: a flying boat, a seaplane float and an amphibious aircraft. The latter will be discussed.

Chinese amphibious aircraft AG600

THE AG600 Jiaolong is an amphibious aircraft of the Chinese company Aviation Industry Corporation of China. Designed for firefighting and rescue operations. The program to build the aircraft is just about to be completed, but it is already clear that the Water Dragon will be the largest serial seaplane of all existing aircraft. The development of the Chinese amphibious aircraft officially began in 2009. For the first flight sample, the centroplane, the middle, front of the fuselage, and the wing were assembled at the AVIC Xi’an Aircraft Industry (Group) Company in Xiani, the tail part of the fuselage and tail plumage at the AVIC Hanzhong Aviation Industry Group Company in Hong Kong, and the launch of the motorized gondola was handled by the Chinese company Flying North. In total, about 150 scientific centers and institutes and 70 Chinese enterprises were involved in the creation of the new Chinese seaplane.

AG600 at China Airshow in 2016
AG600 at China Airshow in 2016

The AG600was originally supposed to take to the skies in 2013, but the timing has been postponed many times. Finally, on December 24, 2017, the Chinese seaplane made its first flight. During it, Jiaolong climbed to a height of about 3,000 meters. According to the developers, the main purpose of the flight was to check the safety and operation of onboard systems.

Developed by engineers of the Chinese Aircraft Corporation, this seaplane is originally designed for general civil aviation needs. Currently, two main modifications of the AG600 seaplane are known: the search and rescue variant (capable of taking on board up to 50 people) and firefighting to fight large forest fires (capable of taking up to 12 tons of water in 12 seconds). In the future, it is possible to create other modifications, including for the benefit of the Chinese military.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s naval aircraft can be used to protect Beijing’s interests at sea, for example, in conducting patrol operations in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Currently, China is carrying out large-scale work on artificially transforming reefs in the South China Sea into islands. Thus, Beijing expects to declare them part of its sovereign territory, around which within a 200-mile radius will extend the exclusive economic zone of China. Other states in the region are extremely sensitive to China’s policy, challenging the validity of these actions. Official Beijing considers almost all islands, rocks and reefs in the South China Sea its sovereign territory, which Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines do not agree with. The position of these countries in the dispute with China is openly supported by the United States.

Given China’s current policy on islands in the South China Sea, it is possible in the future to use AG600 for military purposes. After the corresponding minor changes, the amphibious aircraft can be used as an anti-submarine or patrol aircraft, and the aircraft’s ability to stay in the sky for up to 12 hours will be useful. It can also be used effectively to transport military cargo and military personnel to remote bases or small islands that do not have full airstrips.

Russian Be-200 Altair

The Be-200 Altair is a Russian amphibious aircraft developed by TANKT by G. M. Beriev. Previously, it was produced at the Irkutsk Aviation Plant. Now production has been moved to Taganrog, Rostov region.

The Be-200 is one of the most unusual multirole aircraft. It is capable of taking off both from the ground and from the surface of the water. The aircraft is a real wagon: used for firefighting, search and rescue operations, protects water resources, performs environmental missions, and transports passengers and cargo.

Dumping water from the Be-200CH during the demonstration
Dumping water from the Be-200CH during the demonstration

The first Be-200 flight was ready on 11 September 1996 and first took off on 24 September 1998 from the IAPO airfield. On June 9, the aircraft participated in the 43rd international aerospace show Paris Air Show Le-Bourget 99, where it was a success with specialists and visitors. He performed one training and two demonstration flights with the discharge of six tons of water.

The aircraft also took part in the MAKS-99, was shown to the Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu, who held a meeting on the introduction and operation of the be-200ChS amphibious aircraft by the services of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia. In 2000, he participated in a demonstration of Russian aviation equipment to extinguish fires to the leadership of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation, headed by First Deputy Minister Yuri Vorobyev and representatives of potential foreign customers from Israel, Greece, Switzerland, France.

In September 2000, the Be-200 was exhibited at the Third International Exhibition “Hydroaviasalon-2000”, undoubtedly becoming its star. On the days of the exhibition, september 8 and 9, it set 24 world records in the classes C-2 (hydroplanes) and P-3 (amphibian aircraft), at the time of the set of height 3000, 6000 and 9000 meters without cargo and with a commercial load of 1000, On 23 October 2001, Taganrog was greeted by a Be-200 multirole amphibious aircraft returning home after successfully participating in the LIMA’01 International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition in Malaysia and the Korean Aerospace and Defence Exhibition KADE’01 in South Korea.

In addition to the basic version, other modifications of Altaira have been developed. The Transport Be-200T can be used in both cargo and passenger variant (19 passengers). The cargo cabin is equipped with roller tracks and loading vest, which provides loading and unloading without the use of special airfield equipment.

Passenger Be-210 will be able to carry 72 passengers. There is also an administrative VIP option. The interior of such an aircraft is carried out by the British firm AIM Aviation. At the request of the customer, it is possible to create other specialized variants of Altair, optimized for specific tasks. At the same time, the aircraft can be equipped with foreign-made engines. In particular, the Be-200RR variant with Rolls-Royce Deutschland BR-715 engines is being worked out.

Patrol Be-200P is designed to solve the task of conducting search in a given area of ships and ships, their classification and definition of coordinates, conducting visual reconnaissance of fishing gear, documenting the facts of violation of the established order of maritime fishing, landing when bringing the aircraft inspection teams to the vessels-violators without calling border ships, and if necessary and defeating violators of the state border. In addition, the amphibian was able to control the environment, water pollution, meteorological conditions and radiation conditions, as well as conduct ice exploration, participate in the elimination of oil spills, transport personnel and cargo, and parachute small groups of parachutists.

Be-200 prepares for take-off from the water surface
Be-200 prepares for take-off from the water surface

The aircraft’s aeronautical and navigation system would allow automatic flight on a given route, as well as determine the position, course and speed of surface targets. The Strizh radar equipment and reconnaissance equipment would also be on board, as well as additional radio communications, including a powerful acoustic loudspeaker system and automatic data transmission equipment to other aircraft and to ground (ship) command posts.

The number of crew members of the aircraft could vary depending on the task performed (a maximum of nine people, including two pilots). For long-term patrol flights, it was possible to place a replacement crew in the rest compartment.

On July 14, 2020, the first Be-200 entered service with the Russian Navy at the 859th Marine Aviation Combat Application Center in Eiska. And on July 24, this plane took part in the main naval parade in St. Petersburg. Altair can be useful for sailors in rescue operations and water protection, and in the future for the destruction of enemy submarines. In the future, the Russian Defense Ministry plans to staff all Russian fleets with these aircraft.

Comparison of Be-200 and AG600 seaplanes

The design of the Be-200 aircraft is a free-carrying high-carry with a arrow-shaped wing, T-shaped plumage and a retractable landing gear. Equipped with two marching two-contour turbojet engines TRDD D-436TP with a thrust of 7500 kgs each. The maximum take-off weight is 41 tons from land, 37.9 tons from water and 43 tons with glyssing. The main structural materials are corrosive aluminium and titanium alloys, as well as doped steel. The crew is two pilots.


In the right fairing is an auxiliary propulsion system. The fuselage of the aircraft is separated by waterproof bulkheads on the bow, cockpit, cargo cabin, household compartment, technical compartment and stern compartment.

The AG600 is also a high-plane, but unlike the Be-200, the Chinese aircraft has a flat wing of zero sweep. There is also a T-shaped tail plumage. The WJ-6 turboprop engines (Chinese licensed version of soviet AI-20 engines) with a capacity of more than 5000 hp have been installed. The crew is three people.

The aircraft has an impressive size. The Water Dragon is almost five metres longer than the Be-200 and is more than 36 metres long. The wingspan of the car is about 39 meters, and the stated maximum take-off weight is 53.5 tons. In Chinese sources there was a mention of a take-off weight of up to 60 tons. All of these make the AG600 the largest modern seaplane in the world. The maximum speed of the aircraft is 570 km/h, which is 130 km/h less than the Be-200. The maximum speed of the Russian seaplane is 700 km/h. But in the range and maximum altitude our aircraft is inferior to the Chinese: the flight range be-200 – 3100 km, and the AG600 – 5500 km. The maximum height to which the “Water Dragon” can climb – 10,500 meters, and The Be-200 – 8100 meters. Both aircraft can take on board 12 tons of water.

A rather strange engineering solution looks like an engine device. In this case, the Russian Be-200 looks preferable to solve a large number of diverse tasks, because the engines of the amphibious aircraft of the Russian Federation are above the wing. This allows the Be-200 not to “suck” water when the plane lands on the water or takes off.

The AG600 outperforms the Russian aircraft in size, range and altitude, but if you take into account other basic characteristics, the planes are similar to each other. Both can take on board up to 12 tons of water. The chinese car has 50 passengers and 45 passengers. It should be said that the Chinese seaplane is comparable to the Altair and both cars of the same class. Below is a comparative table of the main characteristics of these two aircraft:

Flight specifications



Plane length

32.05 m



32.70 m


Maximum take-off mass

41,000 kg

53,500 kg

Water capacity

12,000 kg

12,000 kg

Maximum speed

700 km/h

570 km/h

Flight range

3100 km

5500 km

The service ceiling


10,500 km

These two aircraft are the only ones in the world in their class, with their parameters and functionality. The market for their implementation is open, and the Be-200 already has firm orders. The Chinese may try to demand their Dragon with a lower price and lesslong delivery times for ready-made AG600 customers. It will be interesting to watch the competition of these excellent aircraft.


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