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Fabulous Five: China’s 1st Batch Of Women Pilots Complete Their Maiden Flight On ‘Heavy Duty’ J-11B Aircraft

The first batch of five female J-11B fighter jet trainees in China has recently successfully carried out their maiden solo flights, certifying them to operate the J-11B fighter jet. 

State media praised the feat, saying it demonstrated that women could fly heavier, more physically demanding fighter jets just as effectively as men. The average age of the five female pilots involved in the solo flights was 23.

During the solo flight, the female pilots entered the designated airspace. After that, the female fighter pilots carried out several complex maneuvers that severely tested their situational awareness and tactical prowess, including flying along the left boundary and carrying out stunts. 

Yan Zhongyue, one of the pilots from Xi’an Flying College of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, said that they have demonstrated that women are equally capable of flying heavy combat fighters as men. 

“Today, we can fly the J-11B; in the future, the same on the J-20. Our journey is the sea of stars,” Zhongyue said. 

The J-11B currently serves as the mainstay of China’s heavyweight fighter jet fleet and is recognized as one of the best-equipped fourth-generation combat planes for air-to-air and attack missions.

The female fighter pilots will now undergo training in formation flying, low-altitude flying, and air fighting before joining frontline combat units by the end of this year. 

The state-owned Global Times said that the five pilots of J-11B aircraft had finished high-overload, high-intensity flight training, with difficulty matching that of the training for males. 

Pilots’ situational awareness, technical skills, and tactical abilities were tested. They were required to complete accurate simulations of single-engine and landing operations while flying at high altitudes at supersonic speeds. 

The first solo flight also included complex maneuvers like hovering at the maximum angular speed. 

Wang Chen, another female pilot, said it evaluates their proficiency with the aircraft’s boundary performance and ability to control the plane precisely. This provides a solid basis for female pilots to achieve tactical intention in future air battles.

J-11B (via Twitter)

Lang Linchao, a deputy brigade commander from Xi’an Flying College of the PLA Air Force, noted that women undoubtedly have an edge when using weapons and high-tech equipment due to their careful, methodical, and sensitive natures.

Linchao said that the efforts align with the fact that “accurate manipulation of weapon platforms” will be a focus in future combat.

Why Is China Concentrating On Recruiting More Female Fighter Pilots?

Global Times reported that training female fighter pilots are a crucial step to improving the caliber of the Air Force’s talent pool. 

The report added that the Air Force has gradually introduced J-10 and J-11B fighter jets into academies. The measure is intended to streamline training cycles for third-generation fighter pilots. 

In February 2023, it was first reported that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is enrolling female graduates from non-military institutions as naval aviators for the first time.

According to a brochure released by the PLA, the PLAN is recruiting female pilots as part of its naval pilot recruitment program this year. Successful applicants are expected to join the military in three to four years. 

With a third carrier, CNS Fujian, set to begin sea trials this year with a projected operating date of 2024, the PLAN must expand its pool of naval aviators to satisfy Fujian’s demands and those of future carriers.

A Chinese J-15 is moved on the flight deck of a People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier. (Chinese Defense Ministry)

The Naval Aviation University has cadet pilots hired when they are 16 years old. However, the search for female candidates suggests that there are still not enough women qualified for naval aviation training. Women have been part of the PLAN for a while.

The Chinese media announced the first women commander of a guided-missile destroyer in April 2022. 

A paper published in the Chinese military journal Ordnance Industry Science Technology last year noted that the lack of a dedicated two-seat trainer version of the J-15 fighter hampered the PLAN’s efforts to produce enough naval aviators. 

The JL-9G trainer is substantially lighter and slower than the J-15. Therefore, it cannot mimic the J-15’s characteristics. Moreover, there is no instructor in the backseat of the J-15 to guide and train novice pilots flying solo flights. 

Besides that, China is attempting to have retired Western pilots train its pilots in naval aviation. Western nations are strengthening their regulations on this type of training, notably by taking legal action against retired professionals who train Chinese pilots.

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