Car­rier-based air unit set to pa­trol ocean spa­ces

The Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, which cel­e­brated the 89th anniversary of its foun­da­tion onMon­day, is build­ing up a naval-avi­a­tion di­vi­sion to safe­guard China’s mar­itime in­ter­ests. Zhao Lei re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - Con­tact the writer at zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For most Chi­nese peo­ple, the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Navy’s air­craft car­rier and car­rier-based avi­a­tion force are some of the most mys­te­ri­ous mil­i­tary units, and also the ones they most want to know about.

Only a very small num­ber of peo­ple out­side the PLA, which was founded on Aug 1, 1927, have been in­vited to visit the CNS Liaon­ing, China’s first air­craft car­rier. Ev­ery­one else merely sees the colos­sal ves­sel and its planes once or twice a year on the TV news.

The only time the car­rier­based air­craft have been dis­played pub­li­cally was dur­ing a pa­rade on Sept 3 last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and China’s vic­tory in the War of Re­sis­tance against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion (1937-45).

That morn­ing, five J-15 “Fly­ing Shark” car­rier-borne fighter jets, led by Se­nior Cap­tain DaiMing­meng, com­man­der of the PLA Navy’s car­rier-based avi­a­tion force, flew over Tian’an­men Square in Bei­jing, ex­cit­ing the crowds as an an­nouncer in­tro­duced them as the na­tion’s first fixed-wing car­rier-based jets.

China com­mis­sioned the CNS Liaon­ing in Septem­ber 2012. Two months later, Dai landed a J-15 on the car­rier’s flight deck, be­com­ing the first Chi­nese pi­lot to do so. In May 2013, the car­rier-borne air­craft unit, the first of its kind in the PLANavy, was es­tab­lished.

Al­though it’s only about three years since the unit came into be­ing, the car­rier-borne force has al­ready trained sev­eral groups of J-15 pi­lots, Dai said at a me­dia brief­ing at a navalavi­a­tion base.

“It will not take long for us to at­tain full op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity on the air­craft car­rier,” he said.“My pi­lots train very hard. Their big­gest wish is to be­come good car­rier-based fliers as quickly as pos­si­ble and then safe­guard our mother­land’s in­ter­ests from above the oceans.”

The unit has made tremen­dous progress and im­prove­ments in train­ing, and is mov­ing closer to form­ing a com­bat-ready force, the PLA Navy said.

Tragedy

The mil­i­tary has rarely pub­li­cized pi­lot’s sto­ries, so few peo­ple­knowthe hard­ship­sand strug­gles they ex­pe­ri­ence and the sac­ri­fices they make. That changed when the PLA Navy Dai Ming­meng, de­cided to tell the story of Zhang Chao, a J-15 pi­lot who died in April dur­ing a rou­tine train­ing ex­er­cise.

The 29-year-old lieu­tenant com­man­der­wasthe first­mem­ber of the unit to die in the line of duty.

On the af­ter­noon of April 27, Zhang was pre­par­ing to land af­ter a rou­tine train­ing ses­sion, when the com­puter on his J-15 sud­denly re­ported a mal­func­tion in the flight-con­trol sys­tem. Within sec­onds, the air­craft had pitched by 80 de­grees and be­gan soar­ing sky­ward. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that Zhang had tried un­suc­cess­fully to save the plane, and­he­had­noop­tion­but to eject from the cock­pit be­fore the fighter air­craft crashed.

Be­cause the plane was at a rel­a­tively low alti­tude, there wasn’t time for his parachute to be fully de­ployed be­fore Zhang hit the ground. He was rushed to a nearby hospi­tal but died as a re­sult of se­ri­ous in­ter­nal in­juries.

Zhang was re­cruited by the PLANavy in 2004 af­ter grad­u­at­ing from a mid­dle school in Yueyang, Hu­nan prov­ince. He trained as a fighter jet pi­lot for five years and in 2009 he joined a naval avi­a­tion squadron.

In­spired by the me­dia cov­er­age of Dai’s ma­neu­vers on the CNS Liaon­ing, the young pi­lot de­cided to em­ploy ev­ery means pos­si­ble to join the car­rier-based unit.

“When I met Zhang dur­ing the selec­tion pro­ce­dures, I told him that be­ing a fighter jet pi­lot on the car­rier meant ac­cept­ing all pos­si­ble risks. How­ever, he replied that his

My pi­lots train very hard. Their big­gest wish is to be­come good car­rier-based fliers as quickly as pos­si­ble and then safe­guard our mother­land’s in­ter­ests from above the oceans.”

com­man­der of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Navy’s car­rier-based avi­a­tion force

dream was to fly the best air­craft on the car­rier and that some­one had to do the risky job,” Dai re­called.

In March last year, Zhang passed the strin­gent selec­tion pro­ce­dures and be­came a pi­lot in the car­rier-based avi­a­tion force.

Se­nior Cap­tain Zhang Ye, the unit’s chief of staff, said Zhang Chao al­ways trained hard and made rapid progress af­ter he joined the J-15 team.

“The young man set a high goal and strict stan­dards for him­self in train­ing be­cause he wanted to be­come a good J-15 pi­lot as quickly as pos­si­ble,” he said, adding that Zhang Chao also had vol­un­teered to help com­pile a guide­book on the use of air­borne weapons.

Other pi­lots who trained with Zhang Chao at the unit have de­cided to per­form a cer­e­mony to re­mem­ber their fallen com­rade when they land on the CNS Liaon­ing for the first time, ac­cord­ing to Cap­tain Sun Baosong, deputy com­man­der of the unit’s J-15 squadron, who worked with Zhang Chao.

“Fly­ing a J-15 above the car­rier was Zhang Chao’s big­gest wish. We will ful­fill that wish for him,” Sun said.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Pi­lot Zhang Chao poses for a photo be­fore fly­ing a J-15 “Fly­ing Shark” fighter jet. The 29-year-old lieu­tenant com­man­der died in April dur­ing a rou­tine train­ing ex­er­cise.

PHO­TOS BY ZHA CHUNMING / XIN­HUA

Left: A J-15 fighter jet takes off from the CNS Liaon­ing, China’s first air­craft car­rier. Right: The car­rier dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise.

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