Yan Zhongyue prepares to take off in a fighter jet on Monday. She is one of the first Chinese female pilots who has qualified to operate heavy-duty fighter jets of the People's Liberation Army Air Force. (Cui Baoliang / For China Daily)
The People's Liberation Army Air Force now has its first female pilots who can operate heavy-duty fighter jets, according to the Air Force.
The Air Force said the five female flight students, who are currently in the middle of training for heavy-duty combat aircraft, recently carried out their first solo flights in the J-11 fighter jet.
During the flights, the female aviators conducted some difficult maneuvers and received high scores from their instructors.
The students, with an average age of 23, will next start training in aerial-battle maneuvers and tactics, as well as land-attack skills, according to academy commanders.
"We wanted to show people that we, as Chinese women, can also fly heavy-duty fighter jets. Now we have been able to operate the J-11, and in the near future we will also be able to fly the J-20 stealth combat jet," Yan Zhongyue, one of the pilots, told China Central Television in a recent interview.
Before them, all female fighter pilots in China flew light-duty combat planes such as the J-7 and J-10.
Wang Yanan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said on Monday that operating a heavy-duty, air-superiority fighter jet is basically not different to flying a light-duty jet with regard to requirements such as physical strength.
"Advanced combat planes have a fly-by-wire flight control system, which means it is now much easier to steer the heavy machine and physical strength is no longer an obstacle for women to fly fighter jets," he explained.
"However, sitting in a heavy-duty fighter jet in combat means you are likely to engage your enemy in a more complicated situation or face more challenges. You will be ordered to fly a much longer distance to hit targets in an airspace you may not be familiar with. You will use a wider rage of equipment and munitions such as large anti-ship cruise missiles. All of this requires more training, skills and experience."
Wang added that female pilots will definitely fly the J-20 in the future. "This is only a matter of time."
China enrolled its first female pilots in 1951. Since then, the Air Force has recruited and trained nearly 700 women at its flight schools. About 360 out of the female trainees passed all exams and flight tests and joined the Air Force.
However, flying a combat plane was never an option for female aviators in China until 2005, because before that year, all female pilots in the Air Force were trained only to fly transport aircraft.
When the Air Force started to recruit women to fly fighter jets in 2005, more than 200,000 young women from across China applied. Thirty-five were selected and sent to the PLA Air Force No 3 Flight Academy. Sixteen finally graduated after four years of stringent training, becoming the country's first female fighter pilots in 2009.