Starting this year, the Chinese air force will recruit 1,000 high school students each year to train as pilot candidates, according to a senior officer.
“Military aviators are a precious strategic resource for a nation, so the air force will work with distinguished high schools to select and foster pilot candidates,” Colonel Shen Jinke, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army air force, said in a statement issued on the Defense Ministry’s website on Feb 26.
He said the education and public security ministries and the PLA General Political Department have recently published a set of guidelines on the establishment of “PLA air force youth aviation schools”, which will actually be several classes within selected high schools.
All junior high school graduates ages 14 to 16 can apply for the program, which will start in major pilot-rich provinces, including Hebei, Liaoning and Jiangsu. A total of 1,000 students will be admitted, and they will learn courses on national defense and aviation knowledge in addition to ordinary subjects.
Students will also take part in military-standard physical training and flight sessions. The air force will offer uniforms, cover accommodation costs and pay an allowance. Officers will be sent to instruct and help train these pilot candidates, Shen said.
After three years of study, the students will go through pilot selection tests, and those who pass such tests will join a PLA flight academy, while those who fail can choose to enter other military universities or civilian institutes, Shen said.
Senior Colonel Peng Junxia, director of the PLA air force’s pilot selection bureau, said that his bureau will organize background checks, physical tests and psychological assessment for applicants to the program to make sure the air force can pick the right people.
He said students will be treated like service members and follow the PLA’s strict code of conduct, adding that they will attend flight training during the second year’s winter and summer holidays.
“All air powers in the world have been paying a lot of resources for choosing and training young students for their air forces. China has made many strides in the development of advanced aircraft, but it must make sure there can be sufficient, well-trained pilots to fly them,” said Wang Ya’nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine.
The PLA air force has taken a slew of measures over the past year to attract talented people, as it needs a great number of professionals to build an “integrated air and space capability” and to gain balanced strength in both defensive and offensive operations, both goals set by President Xi Jinping.