During a recent voyage of the Chinese Liaoning aircraft carrier, a batch of Instructor-Pilots were certified for night operations paving the way for rapid induction of naval aviators into the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.
In a test conducted on a windy night with fierce sea waves in the Bohai Sea, several pilot instructors from PLA Naval Aviation University steered J-15 fighter jets and landed on the flight deck of Liaoning, PLA Daily reported Friday.
Daytime takeoff and landing are already difficult and dangerous, as a carrier flight deck is much smaller than a land-based airfield.
Nighttime operations come with bigger share of challenges. In other navies that operate aircraft carriers, like those of the U.S. and France, fewer than 60% of pilots are reportedly qualified for nighttime operation due to its high difficulty. The first batch of PLA’s carrier-based fighter-jet pilots mastered night combat skills in 2018.
"The biggest challenge of landing on a carrier at night is the low visibility, as there is no surrounding environment for reference. Relying on only light instructions on the carrier to accurately land on the small flight deck is a huge test to a pilot's skill and courage,” the PLA Daily quoted a landing signal officer on the Liaoning as saying.
Although tough, nighttime operation is crucial in combat. This is because surprise attacks are easier at night, and if a long-distance operation starts in the afternoon, it would require landing at night.
The Liaoning's latest voyage bagged many other results, including giving certification for daytime carrier operation to a new batch of pilot cadets, the PLA Daily report revealed.
Pilot instructors who operated at night and pilot cadets who operated during the day all succeeded in landing on their first tries.
In July, an all-female crew independently completed a support mission of dispatching helicopters, including Z-8 and Z-9, on the Liaoning for the first time.