Chinese pilot's death sparks questions about training standards

Capt Yu Xu, seen here in a picture taken in November 2014, was the first Chinese woman to fly a J-10 fighter jet. She died in a training accident.
Capt Yu Xu, seen here in a picture taken in November 2014, was the first Chinese woman to fly a J-10 fighter jet. She died in a training accident.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • The death of the first Chinese woman to fly a J-10 fighter jet in an air training accident has triggered shock and prompted scrutiny of the training standards for aerobatic pilots, the media reported yesterday.

Captain Yu Xu's grieving parents, in their 50s, broke down yesterday when they arrived at Yutian county in Henan province to see "the last place she had flown over", West China City Daily reported.

The captain, 30, a member of the Chinese air force's aerobatic display team, died on Saturday after hitting the wing of another jet when she tried to eject from her aircraft. Her co-pilot survived the exercise.

Users on the Twitter-like Weibo social media site posted pictures of candles in her memory, with thousands mourning her death.

"We praise her not as an individual, but for the spirit she transmitted to us, becoming the ideal vehicle for everyone's hopes," wrote one user, quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP) yesterday.

Others raised questions about the crash. "Rather than stirring up emotion, the most important thing to do is to investigate why this accident occurred. Was there a problem in the design of the fighter or in the rules of operation? Or was it caused by inadequate training," wrote another user. "Only by ascertaining the causes can we ensure it doesn't happen again."

Professor Ni Lexiong, a military analyst from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, noted several accidents involving J-10s, saying that the causes were not made public.

He said there needed to be fewer accidents, but they were also "a price that has to be paid" for modernisation of the Chinese military, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported yesterday.

The J-10 is a workhorse of the Chinese air force. Two of the fighters conducted what the Pentagon called an "unsafe" intercept of a US spy plane over the East China Sea in June, according to AFP.

"The morale of the aerobatics team will be hit. There has not been an incident like this for the team for a long time," Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong was quoted by SCMP as saying. He also said the threshold for entering the aerobatics team should be higher.

China requires only about 1,000 flying hours to become a pilot, whereas 1,500 hours are needed in developed nations, SCMP reported.

Capt Yu, from Chongzhou in the south-western province of Sichuan, joined the People's Liberation Army air force in 2005, reports said.

She graduated from training four years later, one of the first 16 Chinese women pilots qualified to fly fighter jets, the China Daily said, and in July 2012 was the first woman to fly the J-10. Fans dubbed her the "golden peafowl", it added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese pilot's death sparks questions about training standards'. Subscribe