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People's Liberation Army Navy - Air Force History

The Early Years

Following its founding in April 1949, the PLAN issued its first three-year plan. The portions that pertained to creating an aviation branch included:

  • Establishing three air divisions (one aerial mine-laying bomber division, one fighter division, and one division consisting of two ground-attack regiments and one fighter regiment)
  • Establishing three aviation schools, which would train a total of 10,000 pilots and ground support personnel
  • Building two to three Naval Aviation air-fields in each strategic combat area
  • Purchasing 360 aircraft and necessary support equipment from the Soviet Union

Although the advent of the Korean War did not allow the PLAN to fulfill its goals on schedule, the three-year plan laid the foundation for creating an aviation arm. Based on this plan, Naval Aviation had its origins when the CMC established the PLAN 1st Aviation School on 1 October 1950 at Qingdao on the Shandong peninsula. On 27 June 1952, the Naval Aviation 1st Division became operational at Shanghai Hongqiao air- field, followed by several Naval Aviation units, schools, and fleet aviation troops. This air division was manned with the first graduates of the aviation school at Qingdao.

Naval Aviation celebrates 6 September 1952 as its founding, based on the following events:

  • The Naval Aviation Department was established in Beijing as one of six separate administrative departments within PLAN Headquarters
  • A Naval Aviation Headquarters was established at Liangxiang Airfield near Beijing
  • Naval Aviation was designated one of the PLAN's five operational branches, along with the submarine, surface, coastal defense, and Marine Corps branches

Operational and Administrative Structure

By the end of 1954, Naval Aviation had 5 air divisions and 1 independent regiment. By 1960, the force comprised 500 aircraft, which were organized into 9 divisions and 3 independent regiments. As of 2007, Naval Aviation has 7 air divisions assigned to 25 airbases located throughout the three fleets. After the Naval Aviation branch was established, the structure changed several times. Through April 1960, the Naval Aviation Department was responsible for implementing leadership over the aviation troops and schools. From May 1960 to January 1964, Naval Aviation units were placed under the three fleets, but simultaneously received leadership and command from the Naval Aviation Department. After January 1964, Naval Aviation units came under the leadership of the fleets, while the Naval Aviation Department was responsible for only Naval Aviation schools and for naval aviation unit functional, not operational, responsibilities.

The Cultural Revolution Period

By 1965, the PLAN had created 14 schools, including three aviation schools - 1st AviationSchool in Qingdao, Shandong (1950), 2nd Aviation School in Qingdao (1952), 4th Aviation School in Langzhong, Sichuan (1961). During he Cultural Revolution, however, severalschools were closed.

Besides schools closing, the Cultural Revolution had disastrous consequences across the board for Naval Aviation. For example, Naval Aviation headquarters was abolished in November 1969 and was not reestablished until May 1978. Around 1986, the Naval Aviation Department was re-subordinated under the Headquarters Department at PLAN Headquarters. As part of its downsizing program in late 2003, the PLAN again abolished Naval Aviation Headquarters at Liangxiang Airfield near Beijing, which was a first-level MR deputy leader-grade organization equivalent to a fleet headquarters, but kept the Naval Aviation Department as a second-level department under the Headquarters Department at PLAN Headquarters.

As a result of the PLAN's policies, Naval Aviation fighter and bomber pilots averaged less than 30 hours annually from 1965-1971. During 1968 alone, combat pilots averaged only 12.5 hours per year. In addition, from 1969-1977, Naval Aviation had more than 70 aircraft accidents that resulted in total loss of the aircraft and 62 pilot deaths. By the end of 1977, however, this trend began to turn around when Naval Aviation pilots flew more hours annually than they had since 1959. For example, in 1978, Naval Aviation pilots averaged just under 90 hours, which was the highest number of hours ever flown.

Combat History

On 18 March 1954, Naval Aviation engaged in its first air combat, and the last air combat took place on 10 February 1970 over Hainan. The PLAN states that its Naval Aviation pilots have shot down or damaged 40 aircraft and Naval Aviation AAA have shot down 380 aircraft, some of which were unmanned drones.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:46:23 ZULU