Home » Aviation » Two PLA Pilots Have Died Testing Fighters for Chinese Carrier


Two PLA Pilots Have Died Testing Fighters for Chinese Carrier

China's carrier Liaoning, PLAN Photo

An artists’s conception of China’s carrier, Liaoning. People’s Liberation Army Navy Image

At least two People’s Liberation Army Air Force pilots have died in testing jets slated to operate from the Chinese carrier Liaoning, according a little noticed report published by Chinese state-controlled media.

“Two test pilots of the squadron sacrificed their lives during the tests,” read the Aug. 27 report that went on to list a series of citations for the test pilots who flew the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark in testing on China’s first modern aircraft carrier.

The report provided no additional details on the dead flyers or the condition of their aircraft.

A Friday report in Jane’s Defence Weekly concluded it was, “likely that at least two aircraft have been lost.”

Naval analyst Eric Wertheim —author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World — said the accidents were not out of the ordinary.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he told USNI News on Friday.
“Carrier aviation is dangerous business, especially when you’re first starting out.”

Borrowing heavily on Soviet technology, China has taken tentative and deliberate steps toward creating a fully functional carrier-centric strike group using Liaoning as a technology demonstration platform ahead of a domestic carrier program.

An undated photo of Chinese J-15 fighter in tests aboard Liaoning. PLAN Photo

An undated photo of Chinese J-15 fighter in tests aboard Liaoning. PLAN Photo

The J-15 is an unlicensed copy of the Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker designed to operate off of the Soviet designed and Ukrainian-built Liaoning.

The Chinese are reportedly learning carrier aviation from the Brazilian Navy pilots— who operate from a 1960s former French ship a third the size of a U.S. Nimitz-class carrier.

Still, the PLA is likely to learn the ropes of carrier aviation at a faster and less lethal clip than the U.S.

In 2013, Vice Adm. Ted Branch — then commander of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic air arm now Director of Naval Intelligence — said the Chinese would “will learn faster than we did and they will leverage our lessons,” during a panel at the EAST: Joint Warfighting 2013 symposium in Virginia Beach, Va.

The U.S. lost thousands of pilots and aircraft learning how to fly jet fighters from aircraft carriers.

From 1949 to 1988, “the Navy and Marine Corps lost almost twelve thousand airplanes of all types
(helicopters, trainers, and patrol planes, in addition to jets) and over 8,500 aircrew,” according to a section of the book “One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Airpower” by Robert C. Rubel.
As for China, even the revelation of partial setbacks in the development of the China’s carrier ambitions is a rare admission from Beijing. Liaoning enjoys tremendous esteem in Chinese popular culture and the ship and its crew are highly revered throughout the country.

According to the report from Jane’s, Liaoning has recently left a four-month dry dock period and will likely soon resume flight tests.

  • muzzleloader

    welcome to Naval Aviation LOL

  • Raymond Moser

    Aren’t the Chinese Communist PLA our primary military foe in the western Pacific, while they are our no 1 trading economic partner. Pretty confusing.

    • Secundius

      @ Raymond Moser.

      Yeah, a real oxymoron, isn’t it!!!

    • Chesapeakeguy

      Up until Hitler declared war on the USA in the days immediately after Pearl Harbor, the USA was still maintaining some amount of trade with them, including oil shipments to them. We never stopped getting oil from Venezuela when Chavez was in control. Business somehow always seems to go one despite the rhetoric and animosity between governments!

      • Raymond Moser

        Only difference is that the U.S. business community and government built up the Chines economy from an agrarian, basket case to allow them to challenge us militarily.

  • JD4Radar

    Just 2? Really? Sounds like PLA doesn’t want a loss of face and admit more than 2.

    • NavySubNuke

      Notice they didn’t say how many hours they have actually flown or how many total pilots there are. Just two doesn’t sound so bad – but if you find out it is 2 of 3 or 2 of 4 it puts a very different spin on it.

  • howard_t

    >>The U.S. lost thousands of pilots and aircraft learning how to fly jet fighters from aircraft carriers.

    From 1949 to 1988, “the Navy and Marine Corps lost almost twelve thousand airplanes of all types
(helicopters, trainers, and patrol planes, in addition to jets) and over 8,500 aircrew,” according to a section of the book “One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Airpower” by Robert C. Rubel.<<

    Why is this gratuitously dropped into an article about training losses? The juxtaposition of the idea that the US lost thousands of aircraft and the numbers quoted from the Rubel book mislead one to think that all the losses were from training accidents. Please don't forget that during the period mentioned the US was involved in about 15 years of armed conflict. This resulted in a high tempo of operations, not to mention the fact that someone was shooting at us.

    If one had quoted the number of aircraft and aircrews lost as a result of training accidents involving carrier operations alone, the comparison might be valid. Otherwise it is nothing more than a misleading statement inserted for some purpose other than to give information.

    • Ray

      I know at least two test pilots died testing F-22, whose production stopped at 187 combat-ready air crafts. And yes, they cost tax payers a lot of money.

      • Dave Perry

        True, but not the point. The article includes losses of ALL aircraft and aircrews over the course of 39 years, while alluding that they were all lost due to training. This is incredibly misleading, which is what howard is rightfully saying.

        • TomD

          Exactly. Those numbers include the combat losses in Korea and Vietnam. And I’d bet that the ‘patrol plane’ category includes land based aircraft and flying boats too. And since the F-22 is not a Navy aircraft it IS besides the point, other than to say it is ALL dangerous – but the author’s focus was not on ALL, just on CARRIER AVIATION.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    My guess is they’re going to lose a lot more people before they get it right. And they better hope the never have to contend with a major fire on their carrier!

  • Bhess

    The PLA has a ways to go. There are a lot of lessons that the USN has learned over the years. It’ll be interesting how good their damage control is. All it takes is one of those Sukhoi copies to plow into the fantail or island to make things go bad fast. You can’t learn carrier ops in a short time.

  • Secundius

    This is probably the reason, why the ChiCom want us as far away from Hainan Island, as possible. This is probably where their conducting the secret PLAN, Pilots/Air Carrier Qualification Testing Flights from.

  • Sam Riddle

    All it would take is one Forrestal type accident for the Chinese to be out of action…

  • Secundius

    Sounds like the only training that ChiCom PLAN Pilots get, is “On the Job Training.”

  • David Fieldman

    I grieve for the families of these pilots. However, I recall reading a statement by a U.S.-military official that China has to get used to losing hundreds of pilots as the PLA and carrier crew learn the ropes in take offs, landings and handling the aircraft before and after launch. He even suggested the many flight deck crew would also be lost due to miscalculation and mishandling of the aircraft due to out-of-control landings.

  • disqus_89uuCprLIv

    Carrier Air is unforgiving. That is lesson #1. Remember the old NA adage, “F— up and die!” Naval air operations is far safer than ever before. NATOPS and extensive aircraft pre-acceptance testing and evaluation have made it so – and hundreds of Naval Aviators paid for current safety practices with their lives.

    The typical Chinese approach to personnel safety applied to PLAN aviation will show itself in dozens if not hundreds of accidents.

    Responsibility for accidents are usually attributed to pilot error not poor equipment design, maintenance or parts failures.

    The Chinese might learn the basics of carrier operations quickly but it will take 2 generations to develop a strong culture of confidence and success.