Chinese air cadets

by D C Alexander

Three years ago a pioneer group of young Chinese airmen, speaking careful English, landed in the United States. Eight months later they were back in China, experts in the handling of modern American aircraft and modern American slang.

Their government sent them to this country to learn the art of combat flying under the ideal training conditions of the USAAF, brought them back to China to practice their newly-acquired technique on Japanese installations, and to teach in China's aviation schools.

Hundreds of cadets have followed that initial group to America. All of the men who come to take the course are graduates of China's West Point, the Central Military Academy. have received commissions in other branches of the Army before signing up as air cadets. Many of these men have seen active service in combat.

After they become cadets, they are given excellent preliminary flight training in their own country, but no matter how far they have advanced in this work, they must go through all three stages of American instruction once they have been chosen to take this course. A large portion of the training of Chinese cadets is given in Arizona, with primary at Thunderbird Field, basic at Williams Field and advanced at Luke Field.

Their training, whether fighter or bomber pilots, is identical with that of our own men. They fly the same planes, study the same manuals, live and learn together. wear American uniforms with the gold and blue shoulder patch of the Chinese Air Force. These detachments, however, have officers and enlisted men of their own.

Their training differs only in one respect. While all speak English, few have acquired the technical and idiomatic air terminology of American aviators, so that along with flight work they must be taught the slanguage of our flying lines. Thus, lessons in English — or its equivalent — parallel flight and ground studies, are limited to words, phrases and sentences which will help the Chinese to fly and understand instructions. A special course in technical English is given for them and the English instructor acts as interpreter in other classes so that he may help in clearing up any complications that arise.

A student must not only be able to recognize the meaning of the instruction "advance the throttle," for instance, but must understand the meaning of "rev up" and five or six other common slang expressions indicating the same operation. In the beginning this matter causes some confusion, but between lessons from the instructor, and cadet "hangar flying," the Chinese cadets catch on quickly.

Most of these men temporarily stationed here are training to be pilots. Few are eliminated during the twenty-seven week program — actually less than 10% — and the main reason for this is that rigid examinations weed out the majority of unsuited cadets during the elementary flight course back in China. Those who do wash out in this country transfer to other American Air Force schools to study armament, observation, maintenance or some other phase of ground work which will make them valuable for service with the Chinese Air Force when they return.

Each of the three phases of training takes nine weeks, with half of each day spent in classrooms and half on the field.

At Thunderbird, where the cadets receive their primary schooling, they study theory of flight, airplane design and structure, engines, and the technical expressions already mentioned, and learn some of the basic fundamentals of US military service. From there they go on to basic training at Williams Field, later take advanced training at Luke Field, where they are drilled in navigation, meteorology, gunnery, night flying. After advanced single- and twin-engine training they go through twelve weeks of practice with an Operational Training Unit overseas. At the end of their training in America they are commissioned sub-lieutenants in the Chinese Air Force, become second lieutenants after completing a years service.

Instructors at the three schools say there is little difference between the Chinese and American cadets' attitude toward their training, with this exception: The Eastern men have seen the enemy demolish their own country, have grown up with a vicious and powerful enemy constantly at their heels. And, for the most part, they have had inadequate weapons with which to fight back. For this reason, perhaps, they devote more of their free time to study than American boys do, but otherwise they're as fun-loving as the youth of any Allied nation. Most of them are between twenty and twenty-five years old.

While training, their pay is equivalent to that of a buck private in the US Army — $50 a month — plus $1 a day for food. Their government allows them $100 for uniforms.

Youngest branch of China's armed services, the Air Force came into being only a dozen years ago, was made independent of the Army from the start. At Chienchiao, near Hangchow, the Central Aviation Academy was opened. An American military mission helped to establish the US Army Air Corps system of instruction, which has been followed ever since, with necessary modifications made by succeeding American and Chinese instructors. After the current hostilities began the school was reorganized and took the name Chinese Air Force Cadet School. It trains only flight officers and to enroll a man must be a graduate of a military school.

The Air Force in China also maintains special classes for qualified cadets and men in active service who wish to take advanced training in air pursuit, bombardment, attack, observation, radio, gunnery, navigation and photography. In addition, the various squadrons continually conduct programs to familiarize men with new planes, instruments and tactics.

While it is still possible to train airmen under this program, the Japs, moving in on one area after another throughout China, have made it impractical to carry on the entire training procedure successfully on home territory. Many of the airfields remaining in Chinese hands have been made unsatisfactory for instruction purposes because they either are located in the mountains at altitudes as high as 7,000 feet — a difficult height at which to start inexperienced men — or are within Jap bomber range.

Furthermore, the supply of aircraft and gasoline in China has been inadequate for many years. Thus, most available equipment has been needed for combat operations, could not be spared to any great extent for training. And for this purpose it has proved more economical to bring men to America to train rather than to ship necessary airplanes and supplies to China. Lend-lease is constantly stepping up supplies to the Orient but the demand is still greater than the supply.

These are the reasons so many Chinese cadets have come to America for their flight training. The idea has been successful in more than a mechanical way, for these cadets, learning in the United States under the USAAF to fly the American-built planes they will take into combat, are making life-long friendships with our flyers and sealing the already strong bond between China and the United States.

This article was originally published in the June, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 6, no 5, pp 46, 48, 68.
The original article includes 7 photos, a label in Chinese script, and an image of the Chinese shoulder patch.
Photos credited to Southwest Airways.

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