The first woman to fly China’s J-10 fighter plane was killed in a crash during an aerobatics training exercise, state-run media reported Monday.
Yu Xu, 30, a member of the Chinese air force’s “August 1st” aerobatic display team, ejected from her aircraft during a training exercise in the northern province of Hebei at the weekend, the China Daily newspaper said.
She hit the wing of another jet and was killed, it said, although her male co-pilot ejected safely and survived.
“As one of only four female pilots in the country capable of flying domestically made fighter jets, her death comes as a tremendous loss to the Chinese air force,” the Global Times newspaper said.
Yu, from Chongzhou in the southwestern province of Sichuan, joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force in 2005, reports said.
She graduated from training four years later, one of the first 16 Chinese women pilots qualified to fly fighter jets, the China Daily said, and in July 2012 was the first woman to fly the J-10. Fans dubbed her the “golden peafowl”, it added.
She rose to become a flight squadron leader and according to the Global Times dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
Yu was one of two female members of the August 1st team — named for the date of the founding of the PLA — pictured at China’s premier air show in Zhuhai two years ago.
The pair strode to their fighter planes in lock-step with male pilots, all wearing identical green jumpsuits and sunglasses.
At the time the China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Yan’an, deputy editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, as saying: “Female pilots have learned to fly cutting-edge fighter jets in the Chinese air force.
“It means the air force has diversified its pilot pool and can recruit more female pilots.”
Yu appeared again at this year’s show earlier this month, according to reports.
The official news agency Xinhua quoted Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke saying all its personnel were “deeply regretful and mournful” at her “unfortunate death”.
The J-10 is a workhorse of the Chinese air force. An estimated 400 of the jets have been built, most for Chinese use, according to defence analysts IHS Janes. It said in December reports had emerged of three crashes in the previous three months.
Two of the fighters conducted what the Pentagon called an “unsafe” intercept of a US spy plane over the East China Sea in June.