J-15 fighters from China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier conduct a drill in an area of South China Sea, January 2, 2017. © / Reuters
China’s sole aircraft carrier Liaoning completed its first night flight trials, state media reports. Video of the mission shows J-15 warplanes, known as Flying Sharks, take off and land on board of a 65,000-ton flat top.
The pilots began preparing for the daring maneuvers since January. Take-off and landing in the dark is considered more risky and requires more skill than doing the same thing in broad daylight. Having mastered this technique, China’s jets will be able to carry out swift raids during nightfall from its largest ship.
Liaoning is the crown jewel of the Chinese navy, capable of accommodating 26 fighter jets and 22 helicopters. It also has an unusual backstory. Despite the reputation of being the first home-made ship of its kind, Liaoning was built not from scratch, but from an old Soviet carcass.
The giant vessel was originally conceived in the 1980s in the USSR as ‘Riga,’ later renamed ‘Varyag’. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the carrier’s construction ceased and its shipyard became part of Ukraine. In the 1990s, the rusty abandoned hull was purchased by a company from Macau, with plans to turn it into a floating hotel and casino. Eventually the flat top was transferred to China, where it got its current name – after one of the Chinese provinces.
Now Liaoning is often spotted projecting power in the South China Sea and participating in naval drills. Its last trial in April was closely observed by the President Xi Jinping himself.
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