The Chinese J-20 aircraft will use its second pilot to develop artificial intelligence concepts for the carrier-borne stealth jet.
Images of the J-20 with a twin seat cockpit have done rounds of social media since late October. These images gave the world the first glimpse of the long-rumored aircraft running taxiing trials at the airfield of the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. Taxiing trials are often conducted shortly before test flights.
A two-seat prototype of the J-20 conducted what appears to have been its maiden flight, UK-based Jane's Defence Weekly reported on Friday, citing the undated photograph. The aircraft was painted in yellow primer, and it took off from Chengdu airfield which is next to its production facility.
If the report is true, it would mean that the twin-seat variation of the J-20 has become the world's first stealth fighter jet with two seats to be developed and fly, Chinese media reported.
Wang Ya'nan, the chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Sunday that an extra pilot on the twin-seat fighter jet could be utilized in more complicated combat situations, like serving as a fighter bomber and conducting attack missions on the ground and targets at sea, in addition to those in the air.
Another possibility is that the twin-seat version J-20 will be used to control loyal wingman-style drones, which will accompany the manned fighter in flight and carry different types of payloads for a wide variety of missions, including ground and surface attacks, air-to-air combat and electronic disruption, Wang said, noting that this would be a task too complicated for a single pilot to handle.
Combat data from the second seat could be gathered, analyzed and used to train artificial intelligence, which could eventually replace the second pilot, Wang predicted.