A video of remote-controlled fighter jet models flying at a competition in China has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times in social media posts in several languages and even published by the Chinese embassy in France alongside a false claim that it shows Chinese J-20 stealth fighter jets. A reverse image search found that the footage matches images from the Jet World Masters, a competition for model aircraft, held in the eastern Chinese city of Rongcheng in 2019. Audio from a different air show in China, in which full-size J-20 jets flew in a display, has been added to the model airplane footage. Additionally, an expert who analysed the footage told AFP the model planes’ movement and their smoke trails show that they are not full-sized manned jets.
“China’s J-20 stealth fighters,” reads this Twitter post in traditional Chinese characters.
The video — which has been viewed more than 4,100 times — shows two aircraft twisting and looping in the sky, while spectators watch and film them.
The simplified Chinese text that appears at the beginning of the video reads “J-20 air show”.
It was sometimes shared with the additional claim that it was filmed at the recent 2022 China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China, which was held in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai in November.
The Chinese embassy of France also shared the video alongside a similar false claim on its Facebook page here.
Model jet competition
A reverse image search on Baidu found the same video published on Weibo on November 11, 2022, similarly claiming it was filmed at the 2022 Airshow China.
However, many Weibo users commented on the post, saying it showed remote-controlled model jets rather than real aircraft.
A further keyword search on Google found a YouTube video announcing the start of the Jet World Masters (JWM) competition in 2019 that was held in Rongcheng, a city in China’s eastern Shandong province.
The website for the International Jet Model Committee, which organises the JWM, describes the event as “for Model Jets”.
While searching for more footage from the 2019 edition of the competition, AFP found YouTube videos that show similar stunts to those performed by the planes in the video shared alongside the false claim, for example here and here.
At the 11-minute mark of this 2019 YouTube video, entitled “JWM 2019 Rongcheng Clips [Giant RC Jet]”, a similar row of buildings, in the background and the same coloured advertisement banners can be seen as in the video shared alongside the false claim.
Below is a screenshot comparison of the video shared in the false posts (left) and the footage of the 2019 competition (right) with similarities circled in yellow by AFP:
Further analysis found that the video shared alongside the false claim has been edited to insert different audio from the original 2019 clip.
The audio was taken from sections of a video of Airshow China 2021, published by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Weibo on September 28, 2021.
The misleading video’s audio corresponds with the beginning of the CCTV video, where the narrator is heard saying: “The J-20 (stealth fighters) that everyone is looking forward to have now appeared in the Zhuhai sky.”
The audio continues until the 25-second mark of the CCTV video, after which it skips to the clip’s 39-second mark, when the narrator says “this is important in real-life battles”, followed by “we can even hear the loud roar of the engines from the indoor area”.
The rest of the audio in the misleading clip largely corresponds to the CCTV video until its one-minute, 24-second mark, ending with the narrator’s comment: “[The J-20] turns at a very small radius, which is a very important feature, particularly during battles.”
William Crowther, professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Manchester, told AFP that elements in the video shared on social media appear to show that it does not feature full-sized manned jets. He explained that the jets displayed in the video appear to have “low inertia” meaning that they are very agile.
“Even though real full-size jets could do these manoeuvres — there is nothing in physics or engineering that prevents it — you would guess the video shows model jets by the apparent low inertia of the aircraft, as small things have lower inertia compared to their weight. Their low inertia makes rather smaller things easier to rotate and that’s why model planes look so agile,” said Professor Crowther in an email exchange with AFP on 25 and 29 November 2022.
He added that the shape of the smoke trails also suggests that it originates from subsonic jets, which fly at less than the speed of sound, not supersonic jets like the J-20.
Not models of J-20 jets
AFP also found that the model aircraft shown in the video circulating in the false posts are not based on the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter jet.
As seen in the image comparison below, the J-20 stealth fighter appears different from the aircraft seen in the false posts.
The most distinctive difference between the two is the shape of their wings: in the model jet shown in the misleading video, the wings are narrow, while the J-20’s wings are much wider and form a 90-degree angle with the aircraft’s body.
Under one of the false posts, some people commented that the planes look more like the Russian Sukhoi fighter aircraft.
Sukhoi aircraft have the same shape as the remote control models in the videos from JWM 2019.
AFP photographers have taken pictures of full-sized Sukhois and J-16 fighter jets, as seen below:
As of December 16, the Chinese embassy in France has not responded to AFP’s request for comment on the video post published on its Facebook page.
AFP has debunked the same video in Greek language here.