With dark clouds weighing over her head, an aircraft piloted by Li Zhuang flew over the bottomless valleys as thunderstorms roared in the distance on the approach to Sydney from the north. Li Zhuang knew at the time that she was racing for her life and therefore had to do everything to win. This was the most thrilling experience that the young pilot ever had in her career — and it happened on her way back to Sydney, after she had just finished the Australian Aerobatics NSW Interstate. Luckily Li managed to land in Sydney in the end before the thunderstorm arrived.
Recalling the experience still gives Li the shivers. "The weather on that day was very bad. The other pilots all decided to fly to a different airport for the night and then head back to Sydney the next day. But I chose to fly directly to Sydney because I was away from home for too long." Owing to her expertise, she flew under the clouds and landed in Sydney safely. "I will never take such a risk again," she added.
The competition she attended is called the Australian Aerobatics Championships, consisting of interstate and national competitions. It is the largest aerobatics event in Australia and one of the most prestigious international aerobatics events. Aerobatics require pilots to have stronger physical and psychological training, not to mention nimble reflexes. Li is just such a pilot. She became the first Chinese woman aerobatic pilot in Australia, and the first Chinese woman pilot to complete the race in the history of the Australian aerobatics competition.
From a Fear of Flying to Donning a Stunt Pilot's Cap
To many people's surprise, Li was terrified of flying due to a monorail derailment accident she experienced in her childhood. To overcome this fear, she tried numerous approaches, including participating in an aerobatic flight in New Zealand without prior preparation. And it was that experience which planted a seed in Li's heart.
In 2016, Li moved to Australia from China. By chance, she happened to see an advertisement recruiting pilots. Driven by the determination to "fight poison with poison," she signed herself up for the course and swallowed her fears. When asked what makes her so persistent in trying to overcome the fear of flying, she said: "Life is too short to have regrets." In fact, this is the motto that Li lives by. Her hunger for challenges motivated her to run marathons despite her distaste for running, to learn diving despite not even knowing how to swim, to translate English novels and give speeches in English regardless of her poor English. This attribute enabled the young woman to finally obtain a recreational pilot's license in 2016, a private pilot's license in 2017, a commercial pilot's license in 2019, and an aerobatic pilot's qualification in 2020. Now not only is she not afraid of flying, but flying has become her hobby and career.
Founding of the First Officially Accredited Chinese Flight School in Sydney
Throughout her journey, Li recognized that because of language, teaching methods and other obstacles, almost all of the Chinese people around her who were learning to fly at around the same time she was eventually failed to finish the course. This prompted her to start up her own school to help other Chinese who shared the same dream of flying one day. And so, in 2018, Li founded the first officially certified Chinese flight school in Sydney — Pegasus Flight Academy, borrowing the name of a famous winged horse-like god in Greek mythology. At her school, she holds English-language aviation classes for Chinese students on a regular basis. She also designed a special learning program where Chinese students can learn from instructors who teach using their mother tongue during the first stage of the course and then progress to classes led by instructors in the English language.
From overcoming her fear of flying to learning mid-air stunts, and then founding a flight school, Li continues to dream bigger and bigger as her journey unfolds — including working towards having a stunt named after her in the future.
'How Can the Chinese Compete Without Their Own Planes?'
In 2020, Li wanted to participate in the Australian Aerobatics NSW Interstate Race, but she could not afford to rent an aerobatic plane. Shan Ming, a Sydney-based Chinese entrepreneur, having learnt about this situation, sponsored an aerobatic plane on her behalf. The plane was painted in Chinese red to accommodate Li's red flight suit. Unfortunately, in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the aerobatic competition was cancelled. But she hopes that in 2022 she can go back again and compete at a higher level. The woman pilot said that after being inspired by many of the hardworking Chinese people living overseas in Australia, she became determined to show the world that Chinese can have a foothold anywhere.
(Source: People's Daily Online)
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