China-born pilots train in Coweta school

by Clay Neely

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Photo by Clay Neely

Student pilots, from left, Jack Li, Diego Ying, Forrest Zhao, and JC Jiang will spend one year in Coweta County in order to achieve their certification to fly commercial Chinese airliners.


When one finds himself living more than 7,000 miles from home, culture shock is a common side effect.

For Jack Li, Diego Ying, JC Jiang and Forrest Zhao, the journey is necessary to allow the pilots-in-training to fly commercial airliners in their native homeland. The young men enrolled in the flight school at Falcon Flight Academy range from 21 to 24 years in age and were total strangers before entering the program.

For many Chinese commercial pilot hopefuls, training in their home country is problematic. Since the Chinese military controls the airspace, students can expect less than one hour of training per day. And because of the air pollution, there are not many good flying days.

As an alternative, some China-born pilots have opted to travel to the United States, where they will train five days a week for approximately one year in order to achieve their certification.

Programs like these can be found through flight schools in China as well as in advertisements.

Both Jack and Forest were studying other pursuits in college before learning about the training program and the need for pilots. They both felt they would be ideal candidates and began their journey.

“I never really thought about it until someone mentioned the program,” JC said. “I passed my physical and went from there. Ultimately, I believed it would make my parents proud of me.”

Diego has been thinking about flying for a long time. When he was 7 years old, his uncle, a commercial airline pilot in China, took him into the cockpit of a 737.

“I like cars and have always been mechanically inclined,” he said. “When I was in high school, I learned there was a need for pilots. So I began the process of interviewing. I’m real lucky – I’m closer to my dreams now.”

While each student is submerged in the same learning program and daily routines, each has adjusted to the Southern U.S. way of living in their own way.

For JC, flying in the Southern skies is an opportunity he relishes.

“Flying is such an amazing experience here,” he said. “You see all the land, the trees and bodies of water below – it’s so beautiful and you can see everything. It’s much different from China, where we all live in the city.”

Diego finds that “night flying” has provided him with memories he’ll never forget.

In their spare time, the men are able to enjoy many of the pastimes they were accustomed to in China – going on walks, swimming, fishing, reading, playing basketball and going to the gym.

JC has even ventured up to Phillips Arena to watch the Atlanta Hawks play and hopes to go again.

“I enjoy life here because people are so nice and there is so much to do,” JC said. “I only wish I had a car so I could go see more things.”

Even though they are worlds apart, they manage to retain many of their individual passions that they enjoy in China.

“I love eating, so I enjoy finding new restaurants then texting my friends to meet up,” Diego said.

“We have a special word for a guy like him,” JC smiled. “We call them ‘eating guys’ – they’re the ones who are always thinking about food and discovering new and different places to eat.”

So what does an ‘eating guy’ think about the time-honored cuisine that the South prides itself upon?

“It’s so good, especially the steak – it’s much different here. In fact, it’s making me fat,” Diego laughed. “I have gained 17 pounds and my mom almost cried when I told her. I have tried every way to stop it but I can’t control it. I’m trying to eat more vegetables.”

One thing they all agree on is that the Chinese food that most restaurants serve in America isn’t very authentic to what they enjoy at home. Both men admit that local restaurant Asian Chef provides them with the most authentic eating experience.

The task of training to become a commercial airline pilot thousands of miles away from home might seem stressful and anxiety-filled, but these young men have found ways to eradicate the negative emotions and take an almost Zen-like approach to the experience.

“For me, I don’t get stressed out,” JC said. “I just think to myself that I am taking a vacation here for a year while I am learning something very interesting. I will enjoy life.”

“You have to find time to laugh and enjoy what you’re doing,” Diego said. “You realize how unique this is.”

Becoming commercial pilots will allow for many opportunities in China. JC would like to become a captain as soon as possible so that he may invest in other businesses.

Diego shares the same goals and doesn’t mince his words.

“I also want to become captain as soon as possible because I’m ready to make a lot of money,” he said. “The money will help me open a cafeteria with my father. This is a dream we both share.”

Forest admits that while he’s enjoyed his stay here, he is ultimately looking forward to returning home with honor.

“I feel as though I left China as a child,” he said, “but I will return as a man.”



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