The PL-1 [Pili = Thunderbolt, or Pen Lung = Air Dragon] medium range air-to-air missile was a Chinese copy of the AA-1. The Chinese air force imported the Soviet-designed K-5M radar-guided air-to air missile in September 1958. Characteristically, the K-5M has a slender cone-shaped nose, a fusiform body, and crossed wings and fins. The K-5M can reach mach 2.5 and has can operate at an altitude ranging from 2,5005‑16,500 m. Designed to counter medium bombers, the K-5M has a range of up to 6,000 m.
In 1957 the Soviet Union was able to provide MiG-19PM and K-5M missiles. This shows that the Soviet Union's first air-to-air missile system has been put into practical use. For our technicians, they should be aware of this when the Soviet Union provided us with a sales list in 1957 at the latest. And what should be further considered is, what are Americans doing? Has their air-to-air missile system been put into use and may be provided to the Taiwan Air Force? Even if relevant information is temporarily unavailable, at least the Air Force/HNA should be notified of the progress of this air combat weapon and consider corresponding countermeasures.
However, a basic fact is that before the September 24th air battle in 1958, Chinese aviation units stationed in the Fujian-Zhejiang front line knew nothing about air-to-air missiles, let alone studied countermeasures. As a result, in the Wenzhou air battle on September 24, the pilot Wang Zizhong of the 5th Regiment of the 2nd Division of HNA was shot down and killed by the Taiwan Air Force Li Shuyuan detachment with US-made AIM-9B missiles. After that, the PLA Air Force began to study countermeasures against the characteristics of air-to-air missiles.
In October 1958, the General Administration of Aviation Industry of the First Ministry of Aircraft Industry issued the task of imitating the K-5M air-to-air missile. Judging from time, the 9.24 air battle has accelerated this decision to a great extent, and it is likely that China will change our decision to license the K-5M (rather than copy it). Because the imported K-5M missile was only equipped with the Air Force in November 1959, the launch training mission was completed in December of that year. Before that, China had no physical objects for surveying and mapping. If K-5M is to be imitated in 1958, its technical information can only be provided by the Soviet Union.
The imitation K-5M was named "Pili-1" air-to-air missile, and mainland air-to-air missiles were named after "Pili". The research and development of the "Pili-1" is in charge of the General Administration of Aviation Industry of the First Ministry of Aircraft Industry. Factory 331 is the main manufacturer and chief designer unit, and Zhu Chuanqian is the chief designer.
Testing of the PL-1 missile began in November 1959 in the Gobi desert beginning with the launching system of the missile. Testing against drones was initiated on in December the same year ending in success for the developers. Research and development of the PL-1 missile was assisted by the Soviet advisers, which effectively helped give the Chinese initial experience with air-to-air missile development. The first duplicate of the K-5M missile was produced in March 1960.
Testing of the PL-1 missile in July to August 1960 resulted in little success, as the flight tests of the missile failed to hit the target drones due problems in the guidance system. Production of the PL-1 was halted as a result, after the Third Ministry of Machine Building and the Air Force organized investigated the failings of the missile. The Second Branch of the Fifth Research Academy , the Technical Department of the Air Force, the AA Missile Test Range, the Beijing Industrial Institute, the Beijing Aeronautical Institute, Institute No.605, Factories No.712, and No.212 were all involved in the investigation of the PL-1’s technical flaws.
Duplicate production of the PL-1 was resumed in October 1962 after the technical flaws were resolved. Unfortunately for the Chinese, the Soviet Union ceased its assistance in developing the PL-1 and discontinued shipping the needed supplies needed to duplicate the Soviet K-5M. As result, the Chinese resorted to domestically developing and the equipment needed to test the PL-1 missile. Testing was resumed in December 1963, in which after 20 missile tests, two resulted in the downing of two L-17 drones. The missile was certified by the Commission of Certification and Special Weapons in April 1964.
After conquering many key technologies, in March 1960, the first "Pili-1" was successfully copied. On August 13th of that year, the "Pili-1" conducted a range test and launched 4 consecutively lost. After improvement, the Central Military Commission decided to resume the imitation production of "Pili-1" from October 1962. In 1963, the "Pili-1" shooting range passed the test. In 1964, the Special Weapons Committee of the State Council approved the "Pili-1" air-to-air missile to be officially put into production.
General Bureau of Aviation Industry of the First Ministry of Machine Building began duplicate production of the K-5M in October 1965, and was redesignated as the PL-1. Factory No.331 was made responsible for the manufacturing of the PL-1 with Factories No. 712, No.212, No. 123, No.245 and Institute No. 18 of the First Ministry of Machine Building respectively were made responsible for duplicating the various components of missile’s Soviet-designed components.
"Pili-1" adopts a radar beam conductor system, which has strict requirements on the action of the carrier, and its performance is difficult to meet the requirements of air combat. It was discontinued in 1974 and was replaced by "Pili-2". It is worth mentioning that the "Pili-2" is modeled on the K-13 infrared guided missile that was introduced at the same time as the MiG-21, and the missile was developed on the basis of the wreckage of the AIM-9B missile that Wang Zizhong exchanged for his life.
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