First female J-10 stunt pilot dies in crash

By Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/14 0:13:40

Yu Xu, 30, the first woman to become a pilot of J-10 fighter jets, dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut.

That dream came to an abrupt end on Saturday when her plane crashed in North China's Hebei Province.

According to media reports, after she ejected, Yu's parachute hit the wing of another plane as her jet plunged to the ground during an aerobatic training flight. Yu's co-pilot managed to eject in time and survived. The second plane landed safely.

As one of only four female pilots in the country capable of flying domestically made fighter jets, her death comes as a tremendous loss to the Chinese air force.

People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force spokesperson Shen Jinke said Saturday that all air force service personnel deeply regrets her loss and are mourning Yu's death, adding that the air force will continue training at the highest standards.

Tens of thousands of Chinese netizens held a virtual vigil for Yu on Sina Weibo as the incident became the No.1 search item on the social media platform over the weekend.

Her death sparked online speculation over the cause of the accident, which is still under investigation, and whether being a pilot is a "man's job." But a considerable number of female Net users said they are inspired by Yu's work and view her as a pioneer in breaking the glass ceiling of gender inequality.

Dicing with death

Despite speculation that the J-10 jet Yu was piloting was functionally unstable, analysts said it is too early to ascertain the cause of the crash. 

Wang Ya'nan, an aviation expert, described aerobatic performances as "dicing with death" and said pilots face considerable risks, even in training. "Usually pilots are trained to avoid risks but aerobatic pilots are trained to take more," Wang told the Global Times.

No details of the accident have been officially released yet.

Wang refuted online rumors that women are not cut out for the work, adding that there is no evidence to show that female pilots are physically unfit for aerobatic stunts.

"China is a pioneer in training female aerobatic pilots. When the program started, there was no foreign experience to borrow from or statistics to rely on from other countries. From this perspective, Yu Xu and other female aerobatic pilots have taken greater risks, which deserve more of our respect," Wang noted.

Yu's death has sparked old stereotypes saying women are physically weak or have slower response times and should never be made pilots.

"I believe that any progress of humankind is based on difficult and even dangerous accumulations made by generations. Yu and many other female predecessors have explored an uncharted territory and what we need to do is to courageously march on, which is the best commemoration for her sacrifice," read one comment by female netizen Yuwenduling, which received hundreds of likes on Weibo.

Stunt specialist

Born in 1986 in Chongzhou, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, Yu joined the PLA air force in September 2005. She was in the eighth generation of female pilots in China, and flew a fighter jet over Tiananmen Square during the National Day parade on October 1, 2009.

As a member of the August 1 aerobatics team of the PLA air force, Yu made her last public appearance at Airshow China in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, earlier this month when she performed in an aerobatic flight show alongside the other 14 pilots in the team.

After China debuted its new J-20 stealth fighter at the air show, Yu told reporters with excitement and eagerness that she wondered what it would feel like to pilot the new aircraft. 

There have been a number of other crashes in PLA air force training exercises, although most were not publicly reported, so an exact figure is not known. In December 2012, a J-7 fighter jet crashed in Shantou, Guangdong Province, due to mechanical failure, injuring four civilians as the pilot successfully ejected. 

The most deadly aero accident in PLA history took place in June 2006 when a KJ-200 plane crashed in East China's Anhui Province, killing all 40 passengers, including five test flight pilots and 34 military electrical engineers.

Posted in: MILITARY

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