ZHUHAI, CHINA - The first women fighter pilots to join China's famed aerobatic team showed off their skills in J-10 jets on Tuesday (Nov 11) as Beijing put on a display of its growing military might.
The pair strode to their fighter planes in lock-step with male pilots, all wearing identical green jumpsuits and sunglasses, as part of a performance by the Chinese air force's "August 1st" aerobatic group at the country's premier airshow.
The two are part of a group of five female fighter pilots, who have not been identified by name, flying for the team named for the date of the founding of the army.
State media has reported the women are the first to join the group.
"Female pilots have learned to fly cutting-edge fighter jets in the Chinese air force," the China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Yan'an, deputy editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, as saying last month.
"It means the air force has diversified its pilot pool and can recruit more female pilots," he said.
The five women all have more than 750 hours of flying time in four types of aircraft, according to state media.
Chinese defence companies and the People's Liberation Army's air force are putting the latest weaponry on parade at the Zhuhai airshow this week, including the new J-31 stealth fighter and its biggest ever military transport plane. At the last show in 2012, exhibitors displayed only a model of the next-generation fighter J-31.
China has steadily increased its defence budget for years with funding projected to rise more than 12 per cent to US$132 billion in 2014, but the United States has accused Beijing of under-reporting its spending by as much as 20 per cent in the past.
The spending rises have spooked some of China's Asian neighbours, including Japan, which has a long-running territorial dispute with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea.
The Chinese group is performing alongside the Russian air force "Knights" aerobatic team flying SU-27 fighters, as well as the United Arab Emirates air force performance team. A Russian SU-35 fighter, also on display at the show, has drawn admiring crowds eager to see the super-maneuverable plane.
But South Korea's "Black Eagles" cancelled an appearance under pressure from the United States over their sensitive use of the T-50, a supersonic aircraft jointly developed by Korea Aerospace Industries and US defence firm Lockheed Martin.
Instead, organisers have placed a large photo of the T-50 on a board, so visitors can pretend to take the stick in the cut-out and pose for photos.
"Its feels good, but it's not the same as sitting in the real plane," one said.