A sleepy airport in rural China is not where you’d expect to find America’s latest and greatest fighter plane. And yet at some point in the last six weeks a F-22 Raptor-or full-sized copy of one-was sighted by commercial imaging satellites parked at Pucheng Neifu Airport in China.
In the images, the fifth generation fighter is clearly parked alongside two rows of what appear to be cropdusting airplanes.
Located at Shaanxi provinece in central China, Pucheng Neifu Airport is not even remotely a military airport. There is no obvious link between it and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). It has the layout of a rural civilian airport found in any country, with a single runway, large tarmac, and control tower. An examination of satellite imagery indicates anywhere from seven to nine civilian planes are parked there at any one time.
It has none of the characteristics of a military airbase such as other (real) military aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, surface to air missile and gun emplacements, or munitions bunkers. Here’s an example of a typical PLAAF base just outside Weifang for comparison
The F-22 comes and goes depending on the service you’re using to look for it. It is not visible at Pucheng Neifu on Google Maps. However, it is present at liveuamap.com, which also uses Google Maps. Both maps are dated to 2016, which means the “plane” was moved very recently.
According to Bing Maps, (which doesn’t show the plane) the airport is also the location of something called the Xian Aeronautics Flight Experience Center An internet search of the so-called center turned up nothing.
It could be-pure speculation here-that the F-22 was a replica built by local entrepreneurs or government officials to help jump start an amusement park or museum named the “Xian Aeronautics Flight Experience Center”.
China is developing its own stealth fighters–the J-31 (pictured) and J-20 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | wc)
From several thousand feet up, it looks reasonably convincing. It would be interesting to see the model up close. That said this very well may be a case of “good looking from afar, but far from good-looking.”