The Chinese Air Force will train flight crews with older versions of H-6 bombers.
Starting in early April, students at the PLA Air Force Harbin Flight Academy have been using the H-6 for bomber training. In the past, they used other planes to simulate bomber flights, according to the PLA Air Force.
The change will substantially shorten the time required to train bomber crews and strongly boost the bomber force's development, the Air Force said.
The Air Force used the Y-7 turboprop transport plane to train its bomber crews after the antiquated H-5 training bomber was retired nine years ago, Fu Qianshao, an aviation equipment expert with the PLA was quoted as saying by Chinamil Monday.
"We had no alternative but to use the Y-7 because at that time all the H-6s were in service with bomber divisions, and it would be unaffordable to refit an H-6 into a trainer," he said. "Now the old-version H-6s have started to be refitted as trainers, which mean the plane's newest models have joined the Air Force."
Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said the use of the old H-6s at the flight academy shows that the PLA is continuously developing new versions of aircraft.
"Next, the military will probably upgrade the plane's engines and improve the bomber's aerodynamic design. The development of advanced H-6 models will allow the PLA to gradually retire the plane's old versions, which will be transferred to flight academies," Wang said.
The H-6 bombers are based on the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger, which was designed in the 1950s and retired by Russia in the early 1990s. The plane's latest model is the H-6K, which has a longer operational range and is capable of firing cruise missiles.
The Air Force has sent those bombers on long-distance drills far into the Pacific Ocean since last year.