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J-15 pilots land amid dark seas

Zhao Lei
Updated: May 26,2018 7:23 AM     China Daily

The carrier-borne fighter jet force of the People’s Liberation Army Navy has made a huge leap toward gaining full combat capability with its pilots completing night landings on the CNS Liaoning aircraft carrier.

The Navy released video on May 24 showing J-15 fighter jets taking off and landing on the Liaoning and calling it a major breakthrough in the carrier force’s development. It did not elaborate.

Night landing on a carrier is much more difficult than landing during the day. It challenges a pilot’s skills and experience in addition to their psychological capability, experts said. A carrier-borne fighter jet pilot must be able to carry out night landings before he or she gains round-the-clock operational certification.

Night landings often are described as scary if there is rain or strong winds because such conditions as visibility and airflow may pose tough challenges to the pilot, experts said.

A J-15 fighter pilot who asked not to be named said that it is extremely difficult and highly dangerous to land a plane on narrow, seaborne runways since there are no reference points that the pilot can use and the sense of direction is substantially reduced in complete darkness above the sea.

“The only things you can depend on are landing-assistance instruments in the aircraft and on the ship including some dim lights on the deck,” he told China Daily over the phone on May 25. “This is a big challenge that every pilot needs to take and overcome to become qualified for all-day operations.”

He said currently only the best members of the J-15 pilot team are able to conduct night operations, while other aviators are working to hone their capabilities.

Li Jie, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said video released by the Navy appears to show that several J-15 pilots have performed night operations on the Liaoning.

He said before China, the United States, Russia, France and Britain have had experience with night carrier takeoffs and landings.

Next, the Navy should start training more aviators for night operations, Li said, with the expectation that those who have already performed night takeoffs and landings will practice their skills in rough weather.

“As soon as a sufficient number of our carrier-borne fighter pilots become qualified to carry out round-the-clock operations, the carrier will have full combat capability,” he said.

Chinese pilots made their first day-landing operations on a carrier in November 2012 on the Liaoning, currently the Navy’s sole carrier, which went into service in September of that year.

Dozens of J-15 pilots have become qualified to operate aboard the carrier in daytime, according to the Navy.

China has built a second aircraft carrier, which is the first designed by Chinese engineers, and it has made its debut sea trial.