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July 12, 2012

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J-15 jets on deck as carrier sets off on longest sea trials

CHINA'S aircraft carrier has set out from Dalian in the northeastern province of Liaoning on sea trials that will last 25 days, the longest yet, and experts say domestic J-15 fighters may be involved in landing and takeoff exercises.

An area on the north Bohai Sea region is out of bounds to civilian boats until the end of the month.

"The longest sea trials indicate the aircraft carrier has finished the first step of tests on the ship itself and is beginning tests of aircraft landing and takeoff," military analyst Yin Zhuo, a retired major general, said yesterday.

The nation's first carrier, refitted from former Ukraine vessel Varyag, left port on August 10 last year for its first sea trials and returned four days later for further refurbishment.

The vessel's longest sea trials to date have lasted 16 days.

Military experts believe the carrier will be commissioned next month on China's Army Day, August 1, but say there still seems much to be done.

It will take a long time for Chinese fighter pilots to train to land on the aircraft carrier, which is the most difficult step during training, said Hu Siyuan, a professor with the National Defense University PLA China.

"The pilots have to use the best direction, height and speed to land on the 60-meter-wide aircraft carrier and also need to prepare to abort the landing and ascend again for any emergency, which are great challenges mentally and physically," Hu said.

Fixed-wing aircraft on the carrier will use a ski-jump to take off while three lines of cables will help to slow down aircraft when they land.

Landing training has to be done while the carrier is at sea and the lengthy sea trials this time might provide the first training opportunity for fighter pilots, according to Hu.

The carrier is capable of carrying around 30 fixed wing fighters and helicopters and a crew of around 2,000.

Hu said that China's J-15 fighters would probably be the major aircraft used on the carrier.

Some photographs taken by Dalian residents living near the port showed several J-15s with wings folded on the carrier's deck.

The J-15, also known as the Flying Shark, is the country's first-generation, aircraft carrier-borne fighter. It was developed based on Russia's Su-33 fighter, a second candidate for China's first aircraft carrier.

The twin-engined Chinese fighter made its maiden flight in 2009 in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning.

The current weak point of the J-15 is its Russia-made Al-31 engines which are less powerful than that of the American F-35 fighter, said Hu.

"However, the J-15 will be more competitive to the F-35 in future when the Chinese jet is equipped with made-in-China engines because the US jet has only a single engine," he said.


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