The Shenyang J-15 “Flying Shark,” a Chinese domestic version of the Sukhoi Su-33 jet, is China’s shipboard fighter. This extremely professional video from 2014 shows some J-15 ops from shore and from the carrier Liaoning. The airplane is generally in the F-15 or F-18 class.

The jet is back in the news lately; it’s had a gestation as long and complex as an American bird, and a prototype crashed in April, which was only announced recently.

The test pilot, Zhang Chao, did not survive. The South China Morning Post reported:

China National Radio reported yesterday that a top-class PLA J-15 pilot died after he lost control of his plane during a simulated deck landing exercise at a unspecified inland base.

“When Zhang Chao was flying a carrier-based jet fighter in a mock landing on an aircraft carrier on April 27, he encountered a breakdown with the fly-by-wire flight control system,” the report said.

“At the critical moment, Zhang tried his best to save the aircraft. When the pushrods failed, he ejected and died as a result of an injury on landing.”

Experts seem split on whether this will further delay the Chinese fighter program, but the fact is, unless and until the cause of the mishap is fully understood, the effect on the program can only be guessed at. It could be an error by the pilot, a software glitch, a matter of botched switchology, or a system failure — and if a system failure, it might have doomed Zhang, or his test-pilot inclination to troubleshoot the plane all the way to impact might have done so.

We just don’t know. It’s just a reminder that flying high-performance aircraft is a risky business, and it doesn’t matter what nation’s marking is emblazoned on the tail. Zhang has joined the global company of test pilots who have died in pursuit of the edges of an ever-larger performance envelope.

There are many things to be studied in the video. The rhythms of shipboard operation will look familiar to anyone who’s seen them on another nation’s carriers, from the FOD walkdown to the use of angle-deck touch-n-goes in working up and qualifying a new plane. It does seem like the Chinese have studied the USN in depth; there are things they do their own way, but a lot of what goes on looks just like the way the US Navy does things.

But you don’t have to study the video. You can just enjoy it.

This entry was posted in Air and Naval Weapons on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

20 thoughts on “Chinese J-15 Fighter


About 1:10 to 1:25, that is some serious swell getting done. He must bench like 60 pounds there!


Hahaha! Indeed; that was my first thought as well. But being China, those are metric pounds, so more like 60×2.205 Murrican pounds.

Slightly more seriously, those look like 25-lb plates (or the equivalent), so assuming a standard Olympic bar, that’s around 95 lbs. Ignoring the fact that his spotter seems to be actively lifting as well, still quite silly and wimpy, espeically for a promotional video. “But, but, but those cockpits are so tight, we can’t have the pilots bulking up, or they won’t fit!”


Can’t beat “us” we gots diversity, they don’t.


The drawn sword was cool, but the sporting O/U shotgun made little sense to this Amerikaner.

Hognose Post author

It appears to be bird control on the Chinese land airfield. They fire the shotgun, the birds bug out… long enough for the jets to launch or recover.


Well, now you’ve got me hankering for a Chinese runway-clearing shotgun.


0:27, we see that the wings fold, just like the SU-33. In fact, the wings appear to fold in exactly the same place as they do on the SU-33. This is interesting because, to the best of my knowledge, the Russians have not helped the Chinese develop their Flanker derivatives. Indeed, they’re actually ticked off about the whole thing.

Most likely, the Chinese went to the Ukrainians for help. One of the SU-33 prototypes, along with the facilities for the manufacture and design of advanced air to air missiles ended up in Ukraine after the USSR split up.

Also visible from this angle is the offset IRST sensor housing. Baseline SU-27s (and the Chinese J-11) have the IRST centerline. Later versions moved it off to the side to make room for a retractable in flight refueling probe, which is also visible in this shot.

1:23, obviously, they should be playing volleyball on a beach.

1:25, the helo is a Z-8, which is a licensed-built copy of a French design. The Chinese have relied heavily on foreign-designed helicopters. Even some of their indigenously produced designs, such as the WZ-10, were designed by Russian firms. But sooner or later they will be designing all of their own military hardware.

1:31, while PLAAF aircraft have from time to time been seen sporting fancy Russian R-73 AAMs, the J-15 in this shot has a PL-8 air to air missile on the outboard station. This missile is a license-produced clone of the Israeli Python 3 short ranged, heat-seeking missile. In its time it was a capable weapon, featuring all-aspect homing and high off boresight (HOBS) capability. But it is a rather dated design by modern standards, lacking the thrust vectoring of the R-73 or the imaging infrared seeker of the AIM-9X.

1:32, this appears to be a PL-12 air to air missile. The electronics are generally believed to be based on Russian designs, but the aerodynamic design is much more akin to Western missiles. That’s an understatement; it’s hard to tell the damn thing apart from an AMRAAM if you can’t see the tailfins. Performance is generally reckoned to be equal to an early or mid-model AMRAAM.

Hognose Post author

Don’t underestimate Chinese ability to penetrate Ukrainian or Russian computer networks and retrieve this kind of information, much as they do systematically against the USA. Google the writings of Peter Mattis, a scholar who studies Chinese intelligence including their tasking and analytical tradecraft.

ETA some links

Detailed overview and history for specialists, with 4pp. of endnotes:

Truncated “five ways China spies” for the general reader:

Hearing testimony from just a couple months ago at this link, Mattis among others:


Sunrise, silhouettes, steamy aircraft shots, and beach exercises?

Somebody watched Top Gun!

Boat Guy

Purty glossy production there. The flight deck ballet (and jersey colors) are certainly evocative of a USN bird-farm.

A colleague just remarked “Maybe we shoulda sold ’em one of ours” to which i replied “As long as it’s that POS with the new catapult and arresting-gear systems”

And it IS true – they don’t appear very “diverse” do they?

They’re still a LONG way from even our attenuated “capability” but they’re catching-up FAST. They should NOT be discounted; they’re one helluva lot more focused and serious than we’ve been in almost a decade.

Leslie Bates

When they build a nuclear powered carrier with proper catapults then I’ll be concerned.

Boat Guy

Since WE can’t seem to do that anymore p’raps you should be concerned NOW.


The almost complete Type 001A is more or less a Liaoning (Type 001) clone, a conventional powered STOBAR.

Type 002 is apparently being designed now and is supposed to be a bigger nuke powered CATOBAR, but I haven’t seen anything about actual construction yet.

At the least the ChiComs have a catapult test center like Lakehurst.

John M.

Am I really first in with a “Made in China” joke? I’m surprised they don’t have to recruit test pilots from among the ranks of condemned prisoners.

-John M.


Test pilot mentioned died in a landing injury? System failure or do they not have a zero-altitude ejection system?


Or messed up an experimental plane and decided to save face. This is China after all.


Well good for them, the CHICOMS needed their own version of Top Gun to boost pride-in and recruitment-to the carrier corps.


I fondly remember the days of manning up a jet in a cloud of artificial smoke with dramatic underlighting and flying a test sortie with scores of officers in their whites monitoring everything on their control room screens. Often the stirring music would interfere with operations but we could never do without that.

Hognose Post author

Yeah, but we know what you really miss is the shirts-vs-skins homoerotic volleyball games.


We still do those on Wednesdays. I’m grounded now but still at Pax River.

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