China / Society

Dreams of flying are forever young

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-07 11:02

Dreams of flying are forever young

Liu Yi, 76, is China's oldest serving pilot and has clocked up more than 7,000 hours of flying experience over the past 54 years. Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily

China's oldest serving pilot has had a lifelong obsession with planes, and the septuagenarian still loves soaring into the great, blue yonder. He Na and Wu Yong in Shenyang report.

Liu Yi has a strong handshake, he leaves your palm smarting from his grip and he sets a quick pace as he bounds up a flight of stairs.

He is of medium height, stocky but not fat. His face is tanned from working outdoors and his eyes are intelligent and bright.

Unless he gives you a clue, it would be difficult to guess his real age. He was born in 1938 and has clocked up more than 7,000 hours of flying experience over the past 54 years. He is China oldest serving pilot.

Liu has made many "firsts" over the course of his career. He was the first Chinese to get a private pilot license and the first general aviation pilot after the cultural revolution (1966-76). Liu has never tired of soaring through blue skies since first entering the cockpit in 1959.

Liu's given name is Yi, which means wings in Chinese. "I don't know if my parents had wanted me to be a pilot when they gave the name to me. But I know I've had wings in my heart since I was a child," Liu said at Shenyang Faku Aviation Base, which is also the training base for the flying team of Shenyang Aerospace University.

His love for aviation and fearless disregard for his personal safety, has led Liu to pilot trial flights for eight different kinds of planes and he has gathered vital data for the design and modification of aircraft.

Being a test pilot is a risky business. In order to define the limit of safe flight, Liu must exceed the assumed limit during the trial flight. His navigational skills, courage and willingness to take out untested aircraft has earned him the nickname "Caption of the Death squads".

Over more than five decades' of flying, Liu has narrowly escaped death several times.

He recalls one incident when there were some miscalculations in noting the abilities of an aircraft. If he had reacted to the miscalculation 0.01 second later, he would have crashed the plane.

Worried about his safety, 20 years ago his aunt begged Liu's bosses to forbid him to fly. But Liu's persistence and his enthusiasm for flying finally persuaded other family members to let him pursue his passion.

"Pilots have to take a very strict physical exam every year. The older I get the more frightened I become when undergoing the physical check, I am afraid of being forbidden from flying again. But I will stop flying if my physical condition really doesn't permit me to continue," Liu says.

Liu's childhood is marked with memories of the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. He can remember the terror of the Japanese planes and the wild bombings that destroyed villages and schools. "The planes left collapsing walls, burning debris and innocent people crying and covered in blood. Since then I swore to be a pilot to protect the country," Liu says.

Liu's father was an air force pilot who died in battle. Possibly influenced by his father, Liu showed great interest in planes when he was a child.

Liu sought out all the information he could find about planes when he was in primary and middle school. His obsession with planes eventually prompted his middle school teacher to recommend Liu apply for the pilot exam.

Liu finished the introductory, intermediate and advanced courses and went from being a student to an excellent pilot teacher within two years.

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