UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



The PLAAF's Pilot Recruitment Office (zhaoshou feixingyuan bangongshi/ zhaofeiban), which belongs to the HqAF Military Affairs Department (junwu bu), is responsible for establishing the pilot recruitment requirements. Each MRAF Headquarters also has a Pilot Recruitment Office. Every March, HqAF's office issues the call for pilot candidates. There are about 3,000 qualified students per year, and only students from specified areas may apply. In the past, the PLAAF has also recruited college graduates (age 20-22); however, the best success rate for training pilots has been with the high school graduates. In 1990, the Air Force recruited 1330 flying cadets. 


The 1989 requirements below are representative of the annual pilot recruiting criteria: 

- Cadets were chosen from 14 provinces (Hebei, Shanxi, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, and Yunnan)

 - Female cadets were chosen from Shandong, Liaoning, and Hebei

 - Cadets must be age 16-19 and a high school graduate

 - Foreign language was limited to English

 - Male cadets height limits were 165-178 cm

 - Female cadets height limits were 160-175 cm

 - Male cadets must weigh at least 50 kg

 - Female cadets must weigh at least 45 kg

 - Cadets cannot be color blind

 - Cadets must not have certain diseases

 - Cadets cannot wet the bed past age 13

 - Cadets must have political reliability

 - Candidates must score 350 or above on the National High School Test  


Pilot training lasts for four years as an undergraduate (benke) and is divided into two distinct parts. The first part lasts for 20 months at one of two basic flying schools (Changchun and Banding), and consists of military (junshi), political (zhengzhi), cultural/literary (wenhua), and physical (tiyu) training, as well as parachute (tiaosan) training. 

The second part lasts 28 months at one of the ten flying academies, each of which has 3-4 flying regiments (numbered the 1st-4th) and consists primarily of special technical training (feixing zhuanye jishu xunlian). The first phase is divided into 5 months (1141 hours) of aeronautical theory (hangkong lilun), political courses, flight theory, navigation, aerodynamics, air-to-air gunnery, aircraft structure, flight dynamics, aircraft engines, instruments, weather, and two practice parachute jumps, as well as command, control, and science training (zhihui guanli kexue xunlian). 

The next phase lasts for one year and consists of 155 hours in the primary trainer (CJ-6). Six courses are taught, including aerobatics, navigation, and formation, circuit, and instrument flying. There is a 30 percent dropout rate in this phase. 

The last phase (advanced training), lasts for 12 months and consists of 130 flying hours in the F-5. The students train in attack, navigation, circuit, formation, aerobatics, and instrument flying, as well as participate in exercises. This portion has -a 10 percent attrition rate, and the total attrition rate during the three phases is 55 percent. 

Graduates receive a degree in military science (junshixue xueshi) and have the status of a deputy company (fulianzhi) pilot officer (feixing junguan). Outstanding graduates may become company grade officers. Students who washout are given the opportunity to become ground support officers by attending the appropriate school. 


Until 1986, fighter and ground attack pilot training was a two phase process following basic flight school (feixing jichu xuexiao) -- flying academy (feixing xueyuan), anti operational unit (zuozhan budui) training. In 1986, the PLAAF began testing a new three phase process (sanji xunlian tizhi) after basic flight school, whereby these pilots go directly from a flying academy to a transition training base (gaizhuang xunlian jidi) before being assigned to an operational fighter or ground attack unit. In July 1988, the Military Commission approved this as an official policy for all fighter pilot training and authorized a transition training base to be established in each Military Region. This will eventually eliminate the need for operational fighter divisions to have a training regiment. 

The first transition training base was officially opened in the Guangzhou Military Region. This base was originally a fighter division that became a training division for new pilots. The training division began training new pilots in March 1986. By July 1988, the division had trained six groups of 116 pilots, of which 74 were capable of flying in three types of weather conditions (sanzhong qixiang) and moved to an operational unit' The Beijing MRAF's transition training base, which was previously an air division, received its first pilots in August 1989. They graduated in October 1990, having completed eight items, including aerial combat (kongzhan), ground gunnery (diba), and night navigation (yehang). The transition training base in the Shenyang MRAF was formally established in September 1988 for fighters and ground attack aircraft. . The base, which has three regiments, was previously an air division. 


Previously, operational unit training consisted of two phases. The first phase lasted for two years and consisted of 240 hours of theory and 240 hours of flying. Operations were conducted during the day, at night, and under bad weather conditions. The first 100 hours were flown in the F-5 for basic airmanship, then the pilot transitioned to the F-6 or F-7 for 100 more hours. After this, the pilot continued to train in the F-6/F-7 for 200 more hours. The second phase was actual tactics training (zhanshu xunlian). 

For all practical purposes, the new transition training bases have taken over the responsibility for the first year of operational training from the units. Training at the transition bases now lasts for one year and includes 100-120 flying hours. The pilots must be capable of flying in three weather conditions before they can graduate. 

The second year is still conducted at the operational unit. Whereas it previously took about 4-5 years at an operational unit for a pilot to become proficient (i.e. fly in four weather conditions), according to an Air Force report in December 1990, it now takes only 2-3 years. Once the pilot arrives at his unit, annual flying hours vary according to the type of aircraft as follows: 

Aircraft Flying Hours


- Bombers 80


- Fighters 100-110


- A-5 ground attack aircraft 150


* The PLAAF refers to flying in day VFR (zhoujian jiandan), day IFR (zhoujian fuza), night VFR (yejian jiandan), and night VFR (yejian fuza) conditions as flying in different types of weather conditions (qixiang feixing) . For example, flying in day and night VFR and day IFR is referred to as flying in "three weather conditions" (sanzhong qixiang). Flying in day/night VFR and IFR is considered "four weather conditions." 

Since 1982, each MRAF has formed 1-3 "lanjun/Blue Force" units (fendui). The PLAAF Flight Test and Training Center in Cangzhou also formed a "Blue Force" fendui. All of the pilots in these fendui are selected from Class A Regiments (jia lei tuan). 

In 1985, the Nanjing and Beijing MRAFs each established (a) tactical training cooperation areas) (zhanshu xunlian xiezuo qu). Thereafter, each of the other MRAFs established similar area(s). The purpose of these areas was to have unified training among all of the PLAAF's branches (SAM, AAA, radar, and communications), with the aviation branch as the most important. 

In 1986, some MRAFs and Air Corps established either joint (hetong) tactical training cooperative areas with Group Armies, or Army-PLAAF opposing (lu long duikang) training cooperative area(s). Each training period in these areas lasts about a week and is called a war training week (zhanshi xunlian zhou). The Nanjing MRAF was the first MRAF to use this training method. 

Zhongguo Kongjun magazine provided a good description of B-6 bomber training in 1986 and 1987 as follows: 

In September 1986, eight B-6 bombers from an air division in the Guangzhou M1tAF participated in an inter-MRAF long range raid training exercise. The bombers first dropped bombs at a bomb range in Hunan Province, then flew through five provinces for over three hours to drop bombs at a bomb range in the northwest. Although the bombing results were good in Hunan, they were unsatisfactory in the northwest. It was a strange target, the sun was in their eyes, the target was difficult to find, and they were not on time over target, so they had to return home with those bombs. As a result, they only received a rating of two for this portion. The total flight time was 6-7 hours. 

In August 1987, another cell of eight bombers conducted a long range raid inspection based on a tactical scenario. The first target was hit during low level bombing, which was followed by a high altitude long distance navigation route with a direct run on a target range on another lake. Before entering a false enemy radar enemy net, they rapidly descended to quietly close on the target. Following this, they used maximum climbing speed to conduct their bombing. However, before entering the bombing starting point, they met an unpredictable event. The number one target on an island in the middle of the lake could not be seen because the water had risen. By the time the first two aircraft discovered this, it was too late to switch to another target. The third aircraft quickly switched to target number six on a peninsula can the lake. The bombs were dropped and hit 15 meters from the center of the target, resulting in a rating of five. 


After the pilots complete their training at an operational unit, they can be awarded one of four pilot ratings. The criteria include time on station, flying hours, flying in weather, and special missions. Of the 10,000 pilots in the entire PLAAF, seven percent of the total number and 15-20 percent of the fighter pilots are special grade. In addition, the PLAAF has awarded aircrew ratings to navigators (linghangyuan), communications and gunnery personnel (tongxin shejiyuan), and instructor pilots (feixing jiaoyuan) as follows: 

- 7 percent are special grade pilots (teji feixingyuan)

 - 33 percent are first grade pilots (yiji feixingyuan)

 - Second grade pilots (erji feixingyuan)

 - Third grade pilots (sanji feixingyuan) 


The PLAAF has also established age limits for the various types of pilots. Once a pilot has reached the mandatory age or fails to meet medical qualifications, his flying is terminated (tingfei). Once of the most common problems cited, however, is that the PLAAF does not have a mechanism to absorb these pilots into a non-flying job.

 - 43-45 for fighter and ground attack pilots (the average age is 28)

 - 48-50 for bomber pilots

 - 55 for transport pilots

 - 47-50 for helicopter pilots

 - 48 for women pilots

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list