To dispel safety fears after a major crash, an air force general took to the air yesterday in a Mirage 2000-5 fighter plane as the aircraft resumed training flights.
The planes have been grounded the past 11 days for safety checks after a Nov. 14 crash that resulted in the loss of two pilots and one of the expensive twin-seat French-made aircraft.
The air force's political warfare department chief, 54-year-old Lieutenant-General Ko Kuang-yueh (葛光越), took part in the demonstration to sweep away rumors that the Mirage planes are unsafe, the air force said.
Ko was the first high-ranking air force official in years to fly in a fighter plane. Officials above the rank of major-general are generally not required to fly. It is also quite rare for someone of Ko's rank to take to the air after having been out of the cockpit for so many years.
"We asked Lieutenant-General Ko to fly the Mirage for the purpose of boosting the morale of the air force, which has been damaged these past 11 days due to the Nov. 14 Mirage crash," a spokesman for the air force said.
"Ko is proficient with the Mirage, since he was a Mirage pilot before and was the first to lead a Mirage wing," the spokesman said.
"Before the flight, Ko fully prepared himself by reviewing the flight manual, getting a thorough physical check-up and preparing himself in the flight simulator," he said.
The air force was keen to emphasize that Ko is not the first high-ranking air force official to fly a military plane on a publicly announced occasion.
"Air Force General Chen Chao-ming (陳肇敏), has also flown the Mirage, but it was not publicly announced."
In yesterday's flight of a twin-seat Mirage, Ko sat in the rear seat of the cockpit, leaving most of the flight duties to pilot Lieutenant-Colonel Mo Chai-ming (莫再銘).
The air force has staged public demonstrations before to dispel public concern over air force flight safety and to cheer up combat pilots. Former premier Tang Fei (唐飛) flew military aircraft twice during his tenure as air force chief between 1992 and 1995, said Liu Wen-hsiao (劉文孝), manager of the Wings of China publishing company.
"In 1993, Tang flew a C-119 transport plane to boost the morale of C-119 pilots, who had been in low spirits because of the approaching retirement of the aging planes," Liu said.
In 1994, Tang again showcased his ability to help the air force recover from fighter plane accidents by taking to the skies in a F-104. Tang flew the F-104, known as a "widowmaker" or a "flying coffin" by some air force pilots, to demonstrate his trust in the aircraft.
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