Eagle hunting from the tree top

Zhang Tao

Test pilots are in mission. (Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn)
Death only a test

"We don't expect any special situation to occur during the test flight out of safety concern," said Yao Haizhong, present commander of the squadron. However, there does crop up a tiny little hope deep in the heart now and then to experience some special maneuvers, because one can only become a qualified test pilot by cheating death For test pilot, death is only a test, and test flight means dedication.

On July 12, 2007, a Z-10 gunship started to tremble strongly during a test flight with all alarms ringing. The out-of-control stick led rapid descent, with the gunship dropping from a height of 1,800 m. The crew members made every effort to avoid the residential areas and crash landed in a rice field, 20 km from the airport in a mere 240s. "The severe damaged tail transmission system could have led to disintegration in a few seconds," said Song Yi, then commander of the squadron. The successful emergency landing not only saved the Z-10 model, but also created a trial flight miracle in the world. As a prototype, that Z-10 gunship carries all data of the model. "The model may have come to a premature end, or at least postponed for several years if the model crashed that day." "Each gunship costs at least 100 million yuan ($15 million), with prototypes more expensive, thus, all pilots would do everything possible to save the helicopters," added Song.

Family members of the test pilots also confront the life and death situations from time to time. The wife of a test pilot refused to inspect future test flights of her husband after a first try. "I am afraid of hearing cheers and screams during the test flight, because it means the pilots are making difficult movements, and my heart will beat like a drum," the wife said.

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