Members of the test flight squadron. (Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn)
The Chinese People's Liberation Army Aviation (PLA Aviation), also known as "the eagle hunting from the tree top", is a vital component of the ground force, an important mark of the ground force transforming from flat to three-dimensional, and a key support in building a modern and strong army. The year 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of PLA Aviation establishment and the 15th anniversary of its test flight squadron. A reporter of chinadaily.com.cn embedded with the squadron in August, the month in which Army Day is celebrated, and discovered a lot of stories behind this mysterious squadron.
Flight for test
No test flight, no new equipment. As the sole test flight squadron of the ground force, the squadron shoulders heavy responsibilities in building advanced helicopters and gunships. The squadron successfully completed the R&D, design finalization, and test flight of five series, 20 models of new Chinese-made helicopters and gunships, and delivered hundreds of gunships since establishment. Despite 60 fatal incidents in the air, the squadron set a record of not losing a single gunship or a pilot in the past 15 years with more than 10,000 hours of safe flight, said Chen Fenghua, political commissar of the test flight squadron.
To test the performance of Z-10 model in extreme cold regions, test pilots have completed multiple limit tests under – minus 40 degree Celsius environment without any protection devices, and reached a super speed, which was higher than the theoretical maximum. Test pilots also set records by flying through the depopulated snow-covered plateau, the Everest Base Camp, and the Gambara Radar Station. The pilots have set up a hundred of gunship flight records, for example, the 9,000 m maximum ceiling of large helicopters, and the takeoff and landing on a height of 5,300 m.
Test flight makes sophisticated weaponry. Discovering the potential of equipment remains a major task of the test flight squadron, which often requires extreme flight. Argentina planned to reevaluate the Z-11 helicopters before the purchase in 2007. The highest garrison point in the country was on a height of 5,143 m, while the limit of the helicopters was 5,000 m. Test pilots of the squadron planned to take a shot after a few days' trial and landed successfully later on. Aircrafts manufacturer Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) fed the data of the Argentina journey into its flight manual for later use.
The three major tasks for the test flight squadron are new model test, refitted model test, and pilot training. Different from automobiles, which request no test after rolling off the production line, every new helicopter requests stringent test flight ahead of delivery. Because of the high designing and manufacturing cost, old parts of helicopters are replaced after wearing off, and it is the job of the squadron to retest the refitted models. Test pilots of the squadron also perform as training tutors of ordinary pilots, as the requirement of test pilots are much higher than that of the ordinary pilots.