TOKYO • Japan's first stealth fighter jet successfully took to the skies yesterday as the country joins a select group of world military powers wielding the radar-dodging technology.
The domestically developed X-2 jet took off from Nagoya airport in central Japan on its maiden test flight as dozens of aviation enthusiasts watching the event erupted in applause as it lifted off into the clear morning sky.
Television footage showed the red-and-white aircraft roaring into the air, escorted by two Japanese military fighters that were collecting flight data.
The single-pilot prototype safely landed at Gifu airbase, north of Nagoya airport, after a 25-minute flight with "no particular problems", said an official at the Defence Ministry's acquisition agency.
The inaugural flight, which followed extensive ground tests, had been postponed due to bad weather and malfunctions of parts used in its escape system.
"The first flight has a very significant meaning - it can secure technologies needed for future fighter development," Defence Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters.
"We also expect it can be applied to other fields and technological innovation in the entire aviation industry," he added.
The X-2, developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and 200 other firms, measures 14.2m long and 9.1m wide and was built as a successor to F-2 fighter jets developed jointly with the US.
Its delivery to the Defence Ministry is expected as early as next month and the acquisition agency "will continue analysing data and check its stealth technology capability", the agency official told AFP.
At present, only the US, Russia and China have been internationally recognised as having successfully developed and flown manned stealth jets, the agency said. Japan began the project in 2009 and has reportedly spent about 39.4 billion yen (S$480 million) to develop the jet.
In November, Japan's first domestically produced passenger jet, also developed by Mitsubishi Heavy, made its maiden test flight, a landmark development for the country after being barred from developing aircraft following its defeat in World War II.