China's air force is to recruit 30 female pilot cadets this year. They will become part of a reserve force of women astronauts, according to an officer in charge of pilot recruitment.
Senior Colonel Sui Guosheng, head of the Pilots Recruitment Bureau of the Air Force of People's Liberation Army (PLA), said the recruitment, which kicked off in 16 provincial areas across the country on Tuesday, was expected to end in July.
The candidates are high-school graduates between 16 and 19.
"They will become a reserve force for the Chinese women taikonauts for future space missions," Sui said.
Unlike their predecessors who were mostly assigned to cargo aircraft piloting, navigation or telecom services, the recruits will be trained for more demanding duties, such as air refueling, airborne early warning and electronic reconnaissance, according to the officer.
China, which successfully conducted its first manned space flight in October 2003, plans to send a female taikonaut into space in three to five years.
Sui revealed they would be the first group of female pilot cadets to be awarded with double BA degrees upon their graduation.
Once selected, the students will first spend four years in the Aeronautics University of the Chinese Air Force and be awarded a bachelor's degree in engineering. Following another year of advanced flight training, they will be granted a bachelor's degree in military science.
According to Sui, this was the ninth batch of female pilots to be recruited by the PLA air force since 1951.
The previous group of 35 female pilot cadets was recruited in 2005.
In all, 29 have ended basic training in the Aeronautics University of the Chinese Air Force and joined a pilot school of the air force earlier this year where they will begin flight training. They are expected to complete their training by 2009.
Six female students could not continue their studies because of unfavorable physical conditions or poor academic scores, Sui said.
The air force decided to recruit female cadets every three years, rather than every seven or eight years as previous, according to Sui.
The Chinese air force, which has recruited and trained more than 300 female pilots since 1949, boasts one of the largest contingent of female pilots in the world.
In early 1951, the air force's pilot school recruited the first group of female candidates. In November that year, they finished their classes and joined the army.
On March 8, 1952, the International Women's Day, China's first batch of female pilots conducted a flyover of Tian'anmen Square in downtown Beijing that was viewed by more than 7,000 people, including foreign envoys and media.
In 2003, Yue Xicui became the first major general among the country's female pilots. She has recorded more than 6,000 hours of flight time without an accident over 36 years.
(Xinhua News Agency February 20, 2008)