Flight training will be provided for about 1,000 successful applicants, age 14 to 16, in selected high schools, according to a statement jointly issued by the ministries of education, public security and the PLA general political department on Thursday. The training will start later this year.
The student pilot training program is the most recent in a slew of initiatives the Chinese air force has taken to induct young talent to build an “integrated air and space capability” and to forge greater balance among the PLA’s land, sea and air branches, as urged by President Xi Jinping.
The pilot-training plan was announced on the same day that the Air Force released its new recruitment commercial “The Skies Belong to the Brave.” The ad said “a large number of new high-quality pilots” were wanted to join the air force to operate “new types of fighter jets,” according to PLA air force spokesman Colonel Shen Jinke.
Applicants will be subject to background checks and psychological tests to make sure the right people are picked, Senior Colonel Peng Junxia, head of the air force’s pilot recruitment bureau, was cited as saying by Xinhua News Agency. Successful applicants will receive a military-sponsored subsidy and they will live at the schools.
The teenagers will join in military-standard physical training and flight sessions, take courses on national defense and aviation knowledge, and do their regular high school studies.
The students will take pilot tests after three years of study; those who pass will join a PLA flight academy, while those who fail can choose to enter other military colleges or civilian universities, spokesman Shen said.
China’s air force weaponry has become “more sophisticated,” and the new program is designed to ensure future pilots have a broader education to master its operation, Peng said.
The relative size of the PLA’s branches was confirmed for the first time in a White Paper on defense in 2013, in which China identified 398,000 people at the air force, compared with an 850,000-strong land force and 235,000 in the navy.
Chinese media outlets have dubbed the past four years as a “harvest period” for the air force, featuring several high-profile developments, including China’s first self-developed stealth fighter jet, the J-20, in 2011 and the first long-distance transport airplane, the Y-20, last year. The Y-20, being developed by Xi’an Aircraft Industry Group, is planned for roles including air-to-air refueling.
J-20 appears in PLAAF recruitment video.