A Chinese pilot who successfully brought a malfunctioning jet fighter, a domestically made J-10, in for a landing was given the nation's First-Class Merit Citation and a Meritorious Pilot gold medal last Thursday
Li Feng, 38, an air force pilot with more than 2,000 hours of flight time, encountered an engine problem during a tactical training exercise at an altitude of about 4,500 meters on March 7.
With assistance from the command center of a nearby air base, Li tried every possible means to return to base. However, the plane lost all power at an altitude of 1,160 meters, although it was only about 6 km from the base's runway.
"There was some smoke in the cockpit, perhaps generated by the engine, which leaked into the environmental control system," Lt.-Col. Li said during an interview with China Central Television last week.
"All readings on the instrument board vanished, red lights flashed and the radio went out," he said.
Under Air Force rules, fighter pilots may eject if their aircraft loses engine power below 2,000 meters and can't be restarted.
Before Li lost contact with the control tower, the commander in the air base asked him to eject.
But Li Feng insisted on having another try.
"I knew where the deadline (to abandon the aircraft) was and was prepared for the ejection, but I decided not to give up unless the fighter was totally out of control."
After 106 seconds, Li was able to glide the fighter to a safe landing.
During his service in the Air Force, Li handled another emergency in 1999, when his J-7 jet fighter caught fire at take-off.
The award ceremony was held by the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Air Force Command in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province.
Li received the medal from Yang Dongming, Deputy Commander of the PLA's Air Force, who came especially to the city for the ceremony on behalf of Commander Xu Qiliang.
Li is a deputy commander of an aviation regiment in the PLA's Guangzhou Military Area Command.
The First-Class Merit Citation is the second-highest military award can get. The Meritorious Pilot gold medal is the top award that the PLA Air Force grants to its pilots. Only a very small number of outstanding pilots have been awarded those medals since 1991.
Li was also given 200,000 yuan (29,411 U.S. dollars) for his courage and composure, which allowed him to save the aircraft worth 200 million yuan. He will share the bonus with other people involved.
Those who were in the control tower during the event won Second-Class Merit Citations.
The J-10 is the third generation of a single-engine fighter made by China's largest state-owned aircraft maker, Aviation Industry Corp. of China.