Voice from China Z: Chinese rockstar pilot overcomes fears and grueling workouts, inspires girls to soar through the sky

Editor’s note:

Young Chinese in the new era are confident, ambitious and responsible. With a global vision, they stand at the forefront of their time, ready to fully commit to a more global perspective. The Chinese are quick to accept and react to global currents of thought. Some members of China’s Gen Z have begun to practice the principles of “global citizenship” and use their thought processes and actions to influence society.

The China Direct has launched a series of introductory stories to Chinese Gen Zers – those born after 1995 – who are interested in different global topics, such as environmental protection, equality and employment issues. , and invites them to share their stories, feelings and ideas on social media platforms.

In this episode, a young internet celebrity, helicopter pilot and also the first female pilot of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), tells the story of chasing her dreams in the vast blue sky.

Photo by Xu Fengcan: Courtesy of Xu

In one truly fluid motion, female pilot Xu Fengcan glides through the cloud-covered sky, effortlessly leveling the plane and accelerating before performing a soft landing, leaving onlookers to applaud her aerial prowess.

It’s hard for people to believe that this breathtaking performance was actually the 24-year-old’s first outing at the controls of China’s most advanced and developed utility helicopter, the Z-20, in September 2020.

Xu’s recent participation in the latest modified Z-10 training has garnered praise from netizens after photos of her in action were posted online.

With her display of talent and exquisite daring, Xu, a brilliant young female pilot of the PLA’s Southern Theater Command, has become a role model and idol for millions of girls – a cool and dreamy icon.

This is where burning passion meets cutting-edge innovation, where willpower meets firepower.

On September 19, 2020, Xu, part of the first group of female pilots trained by the PLA Army Aviation Force, became the first female pilot to perform independent flight, thanks to her outstanding aerial prowess and overall outstanding theoretical scores.

In November 2022, during the 14th China International Aviation and Aerospace Expo in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province (south China), Xu piloted the Z-20 helicopter and served as a commentator . She has been hailed by millions as an example of the new generation of power representing the launch of China’s young female pilots.

For a young woman like Xu, the cockpit of a helicopter never seemed to be beyond women’s reach, but rather an ongoing challenge to keep growing and improving.

Uncommon path

With every step on the line of flight, Xu takes a path that few like her have traveled.

“It was a big challenge for me to have the opportunity to fly an advanced fighter like the Z-20 right after graduating. It was an incredibly proud and honorable mission to complete my first solo flight! Xu recalled, saying the Z-20 has a complicated operating system and requires a high level of operational finesse.

“Sitting in the cockpit is completely different from traveling by plane. Ordinary people may be drawn to the scenery outside the window as they take off, but as a pilot, my mind is only occupied with the essentials of the operation. I have to focus on the dashboard throughout the flight with laser-like precision,” Xu said.

Flying solo means that a pilot will fly bravely without the help of an experienced instructor. This rite of passage is what a mature rider has to go through.

Xu says female pilots are as proficient as their male counterparts in aerospace operations, including weapons handling, use of precision instruments, terrain reconnaissance and many other areas. The tenacity and bravery of female soldiers comes from their unwavering dedication to the cause they fight for and their tireless efforts.

“Exercises such as the 400 meter run, 1500 meter run, 3000 meter run, single and double bars, turn ladders, rollers, etc., are usually included in a single training day, and I’m often too exhausted to pick up a scoop after practice. I remember once after a long day of extra training, I could feel my brain go blank; my legs were as heavy as lead and I could hear the sound of my own gasping in my ears. But that never stopped me from moving forward,” she said.

Xu said she often held the dash for practice repeatedly during floor practice, forgetting about physical exertion until she finally felt her arms start to hurt.

Blue dream, the Chinese dream

“Since childhood, I have had a special desire for the sky and often imagined myself flying an airplane. I still remember when I was still undecided about which university to apply to after high school graduation. A PLA army recruitment message appeared and that, in turn, reignited my dream – to join the army and become a pilot in the future,” Xu told China Direct.

Xu later recalled that the enlistment message had indeed set her destiny in motion. The position of “army pilot” crossed the young girl’s mind like a stone thrown into the stream.

“I remembered the quote from the late Chinese intellectual and revolutionary Li Dazhao – ‘one should strive tirelessly to establish a better family, society and nation during one’s youth’. I believe that youth is the most invaluable stage of life, so we must dedicate ourselves to worthy causes that will advance the development of the country. In light of this, I was determined to enlist in the PLA,” she said.

Pilots are already few in number and female pilots are even rarer. The selection process is no small feat due to strict height, weight and vision requirements, all of which must meet Air Force standards. The college entrance examination results must be higher than the local admission results for first-tier universities.

The pressure is way beyond belief. Acrophobia was once the biggest obstacle in the early stages of Xu’s training. “I used to feel weak in my legs when I stood at great heights. However, for pilots, acrophobia is a mental defect that must be overcome. Failure to do so could end his career,” she said.

There is no better way to overcome this innate fear than through repetition and countless hours of practice.

This is always how Xu pushes himself to rise into the sky above challenges.

Xu’s perseverance encouraged many young people her age to pursue their dreams, and Xu inspired many others to join the military like her to protect the motherland.

“Xu gave me an example to see how a girl can master the strongest defense weapons and how to integrate young lives with national dreams,” wrote one netizen, after hearing Xu speak as a deputy in the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC) in March to encourage more young people to join the cause of advocacy.

Xu told China Direct that in the future, she also dreams of becoming a Chinese astronaut, following the path of her idol Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman in space, and continuing to expand her dream of space.

Yue Mingchunxiao also contributed to this story

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