Zhang Chao, a 29-year-old who was training to fly aircraft from China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was killed when something went wrong while he was landing a J-15 fighter jet. Photo: Xinhua
Zhang Chao, a pilot who was training to fly aircraft from China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was killed when something went wrong while he was landing a J-15 fighter jet.
As Zhang was landing his jet on a runway following a routine mission on April 27, when the plane touched down he noticed that the nose of the plane had started to rise.
Within seconds, Zhang decided to attempt to force the J-15's nose back down to save the aircraft.
However, his maneuver was not successful and he then ejected himself from the jet, according to the flight data recorder.
Zhang's parachute failed to open before he hit the ground, and the pilot later died in hospital.
An investigation found that the accident was caused by the failure of the aircraft's "fly-by-wire" electronic control system.
The head of Zhang's troop, Dai Mingmeng, described Zhang's actions as "reasonable and rational" and said that he would have done the same thing in that situation.
Dai was the first J-15 pilot to successfully take off from and land on the Liaoning. He was also granted the title of "Heroic Test Pilot" in 2014 by the Central Military Commission, China's top military body, for his work as a carrier-based aircraft test pilot.
"Piloting carrier-based aircraft is the most dangerous flying job in the world, are you willing to join us?"
This was the first question Dai asked Zhang during his selection interview, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
"I know it's dangerous and risky, but I want to join," Zhang replied.
"What matters most is that we will not stop trying after this accident, as those who truly love this career will not be intimidated," said Dai.
"China is still exploring flight training and risks always exist during the use of new equipment and new training methods, therefore accidents are normal," he added.
Related departments have taken several measures after the incident, including a thorough check of every part and system of the aircraft, as well as making other pilots take therapy sessions to alleviate their psychological pressure.
Zhang joined his troop in March 2015, at which time he was the youngest pilot of carrier-based aircraft in China. Zhang served in the South China Sea Fleet of the PLA Navy before he joined the aircraft carrier troop. He successfully drove away a foreign aircraft which tried to approach Yongxing Island in May 2014.
The one and the many
Yuan Wei, 31, also served in the South China Sea Fleet before he was assigned to the carrier training group together with Zhang.
"We learned theories and got familiar with the aircraft before cockpit simulations and also learned on the ground," Yuan told the Global Times.
Pilots of aircraft carrier-based planes face stricter requirements than other military pilots as the acceptable margins of errors are smaller.
The risks they face are five times higher than astronauts and 20 times higher than normal pilots, Xinhua reported.
"Those accidents are rare events, while flying is a happy thing, and I love flying, as well as constantly exploring and pushing myself," Wang Liang, a certified carrier-based aircraft pilot, told the Global Times.
Pilots of the J-15, China's first-generation multipurpose carrier-borne fighter jet, need to be able to read the hundreds of different instruments immediately without any errors.
"In the beginning, it takes about one hour to finish pressing all the buttons, and finally, you can finish within 10 minutes," said Yuan.
China's aircraft carrier pilot training system started from scratch, and Dai's completion of the training course and success as a pilot was a milestone in China's military history.
However, the training methods used on Dai may not be suitable as the number of trainees expands, as keeping costs at a manageable level will be important, Dai added.
No one knows what will happen in the future and it may still take generations of efforts, but many extraordinary pilots are joining the process, voluntarily and fearlessly, Dai noted proudly.