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Special> Video> Beijing Review Exclusive
UPDATED: July 26, 2012 Web Exclusive
Flying Higher
By Chen Ran


A hovering salute, pin-point turns, low-level flying in figure-eights and the most difficult maneuver--rearward ascent with vertical reversal.

On July 24, one week before the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army on August 1, 160 reporters from 86 domestic and international media outlets were invited to visit the Army Aviation Fourth Helicopter Regiment. It was the first time for an army aviation regiment to hold a media day since military departments began organizing media tours in 2008.

Twenty-eight-year-old Captain Li Zhiyuan is the youngest pilot in the flight performance team. He has served as a co-pilot at the regiment since graduating from the PLA Army Aviation College in 2007.

"I liked airplanes when I was a little boy. After attending a training camp in an aviation base in high school, I made up my mind to become a pilot. I've flown the Z-11 training helicopter, the French Gazelle light anti-tank helicopter, and the Z-9WZ armed reconnaissance helicopter," Li said.

Li flew his very first training helicopter during the fall semester of 2006. The feeling remains fresh in his mind.

"It was my dream. I had waited for that moment for quite a long time. I was familiar with the aircraft from the textbook, but still felt a bit nervous at the very beginning. The feeling was just like you were afraid of falling down the first time riding a bicycle. But basically, I was excited," Li said.

Li said he has benefited tremendously from his nine years in the military.

"My dream has come true. Being an army aviation pilot is not all about glory and success. I also have to pay attention to safety, supply and flight technology. The environment here in the army is simpler, which allows me to focus on my profession. We enjoy singing, playing basketball and reading in our spare time as much as ordinary people do," Li said.

Colonel Zhao Derong is Li's pilot and also the deputy commander of the regiment.

"The Z-9WZ armed reconnaissance helicopter meets our demands for training and potential combat. I'm sure that all the army aviation pilots around the world want to flight with better aircraft," Zhao said.

The Army Aviation Fourth Helicopter Regiment is based in the eastern outskirts of Beijing. It was formed in 1988, two years after the Army Aviation Department was set up in October 1986. It is one of the earliest units directly under the command of the Army Aviation Department of the PLA General Staff Headquarters and also the first armed helicopter unit.

Currently, the regiment has nearly 1,000 personnel, and 86 percent of the officers have college degrees or above. Both the air crew and the ground crew are engaged in highly technical and specialized work, such as piloting, navigation, communication, mechanics, electronics, radio, gunnery and radar. Its fleet includes Z-9WZ armed helicopters, Mi-series transport helicopters and fixed-wing transport aircraft.

The regiment's peacetime duties include combat training, emergency rescue and disaster relief, security operations of major events and support of significant scientific research programs. Its wartime duties include battlefield reconnaissance, combat, air delivery and search and rescue.

Forty-seven-year-old Colonel Zhang Zhilin is the commander of the regiment. He has led the regiment through several major events such as disaster relief after the 8.0-magnitude Wenchuan earthquake in May 2008, the security tasks for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and the National Day parade for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 2009.

"The greatest progress is that we moved from real equipment in the past to today's massive simulator training, which is less costly. My regiment is excellent," Zhang said .

Since 2000, the regiment has retrieved nine Shenzhou spacecraft re-entry capsules. Zhang participated in the recovery of the China's first manned re-entry capsule.

"We had retrieved the unmanned re-entry capsules before. The pressure was less than for the manned one. It was in the early morning on October 16, 2003, our helicopter spotted the descending spacecraft carrying China's first astronaut Yang Liwei, and managed to conduct visual flight at risk of collision with falling debris and a huge parachute. I felt relieved when I saw Yang was safe and in good condition," Zhang said.

Since being promoted to regiment commander in 2009, Zhang has a vision to make the regiment better and stronger.

"The army is in the process of transformation. We should seize the opportunity and nurture more talent. Besides, we have to take full advantage of our strengths in equipment to get our jobs done better. The core of the army is its combat effectiveness," Zhang said.


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