September 25, 2012, was a historic day for the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The country's first aircraft carrier, the 74,406-ton Liaoning, started service on that day, marking the beginning of the PLAN's transformation into a blue-water navy.
Two months later, naval pilot Dai Mingmeng landed a carrier-borne J-15 fighter jet on the Liaoning for the first time, another milestone for China's naval development.
The PLA Naval Air Force (PLANAF), one of the five branches of the PLAN, has a similar mixture of warplanes and supporting aircraft to the PLANAF. But the purposes and requirements for naval and air force pilots are different.
A formidable force in maritime warfare, the Naval Air Force provides air defense coverage for naval warships. Compared to other naval branches, the PLANAF has remarkable advantages in speed, maneuverability and striking power.
The PLAN has been modernizing its combat force structure and capabilities since China became an aircraft carrier power. The Navy's modernization drive has seen its aviation branch taking center stage.
A pilot sitting in the cockpit prepares to taxi his fighter jet out the flight line during a recent training exercise conducted by a naval aviation brigade under the PLA Eastern Theater Command. （Photo via chinamil.com.cn）
Heroes of the sky and the sea
China's annual recruitment of naval pilots is currently underway. More than 4,500 candidates from 22 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions across the country have passed the initial selection, doubling the number from last year.
Becoming a naval pilot is the best choice for those who want to become heroes of the sky and the sea, a PLAN Pilot Recruitment Office official said.
"Some of the pilot cadets recruited this year will receive the top and most systematic training as carrier-borne aircraft pilots," the official said.
This year's comprehensive assessment for new recruits which has just concluded had a special focus on the selection of ship-borne traits, according to the Navy's website.
With the commissioning of new aircraft speeding up and the demand for carrier pilots increasing, the PLAN is intensifying its pilot recruitment campaign to meet the needs of its aircraft carriers.
China's second and the first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is widely expected to be delivered this year. Sea trials and other work related to the carrier are progressing steadily according to schedule, the defense ministry said in March.