Child prodigy becomes key architect of China’s next-generation fighter jets

Source:Global Times - Agencies Published: 2018/9/28 18:03:42

Yang Wei, chief designer of China's J-20 stealth fighter, accepts interviews during the "two sessions" - the annual meetings of the national legislature and the top political advisory body, on March 20. Photo: VCG

For most Chinese, skipping high school and going straight to college, especially by passing China's competitive college entrance examination, is a farfetched thought.

So when Yang Wei, chief designer of China's J-20 stealth fighter, recently spoke of how he skipped high school and got admitted into a prestigious Chinese university by passing the national exam with ease almost 40 years ago, the video clip immediately went viral on China's Twitter-like platform, Sina Weibo, with netizens marveling at his early academic achievement.

At age 15, Yang became the youngest student majoring in aerodynamics at the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

Many child prodigies fail to grow into adult geniuses, but Yang managed to sustain his brilliance into adulthood. In 1985, Yang graduated with a master's degree and joined the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute. For the next 30 years, he participated in and led the design of a series of Chinese fighter jets including the J-10 and FC-1, and is now the chief designer of the J-20, China's most advanced stealth fighter jet and the latest addition to the arsenal of the People's Liberation Army Air Force this year.

The whiz kid

"I got five 100s and one 99 during my middle school graduation exam - just one point lower than the full mark," Yang said, recalling his student years in a television special about Northwestern Polytechnical University on China Central Television on Wednesday.

He appeared as an honorary alumnus.

He said he applied for an opportunity to directly take the national college entrance examination, and it was approved.

"So just two weeks after I took the high-school entrance examination, I took the college entrance examination," Yang said.

It was 1978, the second year the national college entrance examination was resumed after it was put to a halt by the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Competition was so fierce that over 6.1 million people vied for 400,000 seats in college that year, with an admission rate of less than 7 percent.

Yang aced in the exam. He said his final score was only one or two points below the score requirement of China's top universities like Peking and Tsinghua. Even though many universities expressed interest in the young man, Yang said his color vision deficiency barred him from being admitted to the schools he applied for. It was the Northwestern Polytechnical University, a university famous for its aerospace technology, that finally admitted him.

"I had already studied for a month in high school, and I happily bid farewell to my classmates. I told them 'Goodbye. I'm going to college,'" he said.

Yang's years at the Northwestern Polytechnical University sparked his interest in aircraft design. Before graduation, Yang chose to work in the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute. "I told my adviser that I want to be a chief aircraft designer in the future. He didn't comment, only saying that this will require a lot of effort and opportunities," Yang said.

China's J-20 stealth fighter Photo: VCG


Aircraft designer


Yang's first task after joining the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute was to participate in and later lead the design and innovation of digital fly-by-wire flight controls, which later became a main feature of the J-10. He also implemented all-digital simulation tests for aircraft and broke the blockade of foreign technology, the Science and Technology Daily reported.

In 1998, 35-year-old Yang was given an important task by Song Wencong, then the chief designer of the J-10 - to fix the stealth fighter jet's design problems, optimize its design and complete its development and certification. Yang lead his team to design a flight testing plan that greatly boosted the efficiency of flight testing.

Two years later, at 37, Yang became the youngest chief aircraft designer in China. "I finally realized the dream I had when I was a college student," he said.

Yang later became the general designer of the FC-1 Xiaolong, a lightweight and multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by Pakistan and China, and was also appointed the chief designer of the J-20.

It only took seven years from the J-20's first test flight in 2011 to being formally armed by the PLA. "The J-20's performance is beyond my expectation. As a new aircraft, it was able to be mastered by so many pilots in such a short time, this is really outstanding compared with previous planes," he told the Xinhua News Agency.

"As a chief designer, I truly feel that fighter jets have life … there's a spirit in them. They're the brainchild of aircraft designers who devote their time into research and innovation, based on their understanding of future warfare," he said.

Through the development of a series of fighter jets from the J-10 to the J-20, Yang said China has established a digitized aircraft research and development system, and China's fighter jets have risen to the second echelon in the world.

Yang's dream is that one day, Chinese fighter jets could become the global benchmark. "If one day our aircraft can become a standard, and others will build planes according to our standard, it will be a huge achievement," he told China Central Television.

Global Times - Agencies


Newspaper headline: Soaring to glory


Posted in: PROFILE,SOCIETY

blog comments powered by Disqus