New Curriculum Improves Combat Readiness of Navy’s Rotary-Wing Units
A cadet at the Naval Aviation University conducts a "solo" ship landing. Image Source: http://www.mod.gov.cn/topnews/2020-04/12/content_4863493.htm
Throughout the week of April 12-18, 2020 the official news media of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reported that four cadets at the Naval Aviation University “recently” conducted the first “solo” helicopter landings on a ship by cadets at the university.
This event represents another recent enhancement of the university’s training of helicopter pilots. After all, it was only in December 2019 that a group of cadets, presumably of the same cohort, conducted the first daytime ship landings by aspiring helicopter pilots at the university.
In a video report of the landings, the cadets did not appear to be alone in their cockpits, but it is likely that the flights were regarded as solo flights because instructors either did not accompany the cadets or because instructors did not interfere. One Z-9 and one new variant of the Z-8 were shown landing on the deck of the supply ship Taihu, indicating that the four cadets who completed solo landings on that day did so in two types of helicopter. It should be noted that while these four cadets were the first to conduct solo landings at the university, they are not necessarily the only cadets in the helicopter pilot training program, so they are unlikely to be the only cadets who have completed solo landings by now.
In the past, the Naval Aviation University only trained would-be helicopter pilots in “basic” skills, which does not comprise shipborne operations, the primary duty of any navy’s shipborne aircraft units; training in shipborne operations was left to the various operational units to which the cadets were assigned after graduation. Consequently, new graduates of the university’s helicopter pilot training program arrived at their units unprepared to conduct those units’ missions. The PLA itself admits that operational units lack systematic programs for advanced flight training, and the lack thereof likely suggests that there is no single, uniform program for such, meaning that the PLA Navy’s new helicopter pilots have been trained at different paces and to different standards within their units. This has obvious, negative consequences for these units’ combat readiness, and it is an inefficient method of meeting the demand for more qualified pilots to operate from what is likely to be a growing fleet of aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.
However, the Naval Aviation University has redesigned its training program for helicopter pilots, forcing its cadets to conduct “over one hundred” instructional flights and four examinations in order to have them achieve their first “solo” ship landings within the first year of their two-year training at the university. It is possible that the second year of this redesigned training program comprises nighttime flight and ship-landing training. In any case, the change to the curriculum will likely produce pilots who will be prepared for the range of missions that the PLA Navy will require of its rotary-wing aviation units. This should lighten, and perhaps even eliminate, the burden of training that operational units currently bear and, as a result, enable those units to focus on other missions. More important, this will enable operational units to maintain a steady state of combat readiness.
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