(Bloomberg) — China’s air force is offering pilot training to high school students in its latest attempt to attract young and qualified recruits needed to upgrade the People’s Liberation Army.
Flight training will be provided for about 1,000 successful applicants, age 14 to 16, in selected high schools, according to a statement jointly issued by the ministries of education, public security and the PLA general political department on Thursday. The training will start later this year.
The student pilot training program is the most recent in a slew of initiatives the Chinese air force has taken to induct young talent to build an “integrated air and space capability” and to forge greater balance among the PLA’s land, sea and air branches, as urged by President Xi Jinping.
Well, that’s one way to do it.
Prior to World War II, a degree was required for training as an aviator the Army Air Forces. The lack of qualified college graduates, and the vast numbers of pilots needed by the AAF, led to that requirement being relaxed during the war. Eventually, after the war, it was reinstated, not just as a qualification for pilot training, but pretty much as a requirement for commissioning as an officer.
Of course, the US Army has long trained Warrant Officer aviators straight out of high school.
But here, the PLA appears to be using certain high schools as a pre-flight training syllabus, and screening tool. That’s probably not something we, in the United States, could realistically do, mostly for political reasons. But I can’t think of a fundamental reason why it would fail to produce qualified aviators.
In fact, Barrett Tillman’s novel Warriors looked at selecting a cream of the crop of young, high school graduates as the pilots of an air defense force. While the downside might be immaturity, the upside is, you get four more years of young men in their physical prime. Which, that’s pretty nice to have in terms of reflexes and eyesight.