China's first female fighter pilots claim their half of sky

Updated: 2015-03-19 07:45

By ZHAO LEI(China Daily)

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China's first female fighter pilots claim their half of sky

Standing with a J-10 fighter jet, four female pilots take a break at the biennial Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition in Malaysia on Tuesday. They were part of the aerobatics show. [Photo/Xinhua]

Flying one of the world's most lethal warplanes makes Yu Xu, Tao Jiali, Sheng Yifei and He Xiaoli different from others their age.

The four women in their late 20s-China's first female fighter jet pilots-have launched an "aerobatic charm offensive" on tens of thousands of visitors at a major air show in Malaysia, the first such performance by Chinese female pilots outside China.

"This is our first time flying out of our territorial sky and performing at an international air show, which means a lot to us," Yu said after taking part in a performance on Tuesday at the biennial Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition, one of the biggest defense equipment shows in the Asia-Pacific.

"Through the performance, we can display the good image of Chinese female pilots and the Chinese air force," she added. "We will let the whole world know that we are able to do things that many men think women can't."

The PLA air force's August 1st Air Demonstration Team, China's best-known aerobatic flight display team, flew to Langkawi on March 11 for its second overseas show following the 2013 Moscow air show.

After the opening ceremony on Tuesday morning, Yu and six male PLA pilots gave a 25-minute aerobatic show in the J-10 fighter jet, one of China's most advanced military aircraft.

They performed various formations, solo flying and a flyby for the audience.

Colonel Cao Zhenzhong, commander of the August 1st team, said the team prepared three sets totaling 20 maneuvers for the show.

The team will give four performances during the five-day exhibition, which concludes on Saturday. The other three female pilots will perform in the coming days, Yu said.

When the Chinese air force first recruited female fighter pilots in 2005, more than 200,000 graduates from high schools around the country applied for the opportunity. Thirty-five were selected and sent to the PLA Air Force No 3 Flight Academy. Sixteen of them finally graduated after four years of training.

Yu and the other three female pilots were then assigned to a fighter jet regiment and selected by the August 1st team in December 2013 to fly the J-10.

"Flying a fighter jet is high risk and very challenging. It requires not only superlative technique but also high mental agility and aptitude. In this regard, it makes no difference whether you are male or female. Therefore, we have to work hard to meet all the technical requirements and strengthen our mental faculties," He told Xinhua News Agency.

The four pilots all have more than 800 hours of flying experience in four types of military aircraft, said Colonel Shen Jinke, spokesman for the PLA air force.

The second group of sixteen female fighter jet pilots graduated in 2013 and joined the air force's combat units.

China enrolled its first female pilots in 1951. Since then, more than 500 women have flown for the PLA air force. The military will also train women to operate bombers, aerial refueling planes and airborne early warning and control aircraft, PLA Daily previously reported.