Pakistans Cradle of Fighter Pilots. Chinese Style

MIANWALI, IN THE Central Command District of the Pakistan Air Force with its eighty plus aircraft, is by far the largest all-Chinese equipped Air Base in the PAF, and possibly in the world, outside of China.

It has an array of types including the FT-5 (MiG-17) Trainer, the F-6 and FT-6 and, more recently it has received the new F-7P and F-7TP from China.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Mianwali is run entirely on the Chinese system ably commanded by it’s popular commander, Air Commodore Amer Ali Sharieff. The Base is situated some 10 miles (16km) south west of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, on the extreme western edge of the Punjab, and is the home of three squadrons, Nos 1,19 and 25.

Mianwali came to prominence following the 1965 war with India when it was realised that

Sorgodho (the present day CCS Base — see AFM April 1992) needed an alternate recovery airfield deeper inside Pakistan territory. It was selected partly because a World War Two airstrip already existed and its location enabled it to be used as a front line base against any threat from the west — the Afghanistan border being only 70 miles (113km) away. Initially, however, it was conceived as a satellite airfield only.

During the 1971 war with India Mianwali played a very active role and contributed substantially to the war effort of the PAF, during which time detachments of several types of aircraft operated from the base. In 1974 Mianwali was upgraded from a satellite to a fully operational base. It took some three years to complete the required infrastructure to turn it into a permanent operational base.

In November 1975, No 1 Fighter Conversion Unit was transferred from PAF base Masroor to Mianwali on a permanent basis and today, Mianwali is the home of the 37th Combat Training Wing, commanded by G/C Fahmid Iqbal.


Pilots training at Mianwali will have left school at the age of seventeen, before being selected to attend the Air Force Academy at Risalpur which is affiliated to Peshawar University. At the end of the two year course all students have to obtain a B.Sc degree in avionics before being accepted as a Pilot Cadet at the Flying School, also at Risalpur.

Here they ore trained on the locally-built MFI-17 Mushaq (Urdu for Trainer) and the Cessna T-37 jet trainer. After successfully passing the 1 ‘/2 year course at Risalpur they are then sent to 1 Squadron Fighter Conversion Unit (FCU) at Mianwali.

№1 Sqn Rahbars ‘Leaders’

Following the introduction of Chinese Fighters into the PAF there was a growing need to have a lead-in jet trainer to give the newly graduated Pilots from the Academy at Risalpur an introduction to Chinese systems before they flew the F-6. Accordingly the FT-5 aircraft was inducted to fulfil this requirement and 1 Sqn FCU was established on April 28, 1975 to train pilots for the F-6, and later the A-5, weapons systems. The FT-5s gradually took over most of the tasks of 2 Squadron FCU’s T-33s which were re-assigned to target towing and other duties.

Today, under the watchful eye of W/C Syed Riaz Ali, the Squadron Commander, student pilots commence six months of training on the FT-5. There are two courses per year averaging 20 students on each, at the end of which they will have completed 90 sorties or 60 hours flying. The failure rate at this stage is approximately 5%.

At the end of this course the pilots are posted to either Nos 19 or 25 Squadron Operational Conversion Units (OCUs).

№19 Sqn Sherdils ‘War Hawks’

The Squadron was formed on the February 1, 1958 at Mauripur with twelve F-86F Sabres and has had an interesting and varied history. It had the distinction of being the first F-86 unit to operate in Dhaka, the former capital of East Pakistan and now Bangladesh.

In October 1963, the Squadron moved to Peshawar where it saw action in the 1965 war with India, and again with it’s F-86Es and Fs during the 1971 war. On November 10,1972 the Squadron was changed to a Fighter Leaders School and in 1977 re-equipped with the F-6 which it operated until the introduction of the F-7 in 1990.

Today 19 Squadron is proud to be the latest squadron in the PAF to re-equip with the F-7P and TP. The last pair of F-7s were delivered in July 1990 having been flown to Mianwali by PAF Pilots direct from the Chinese air base at Hotan in Sinkiang Province in western China. These factory-fresh aircraft straight out of the factories at Chenadhu (F-7) and Guizhou (F-7TP) must have flown over one of the most beautiful ferry routes in the world. Hotan is some 170 miles (274km) north of the second highest peak in the world — K2, and the routing to Mianwali took them over the Himalayas and Gilgit in north Pakistan.

The Squadron is temporarily commanded by S/L Nadeem who has previously flown 1,000 hours in the F-16. He was in fact the pilot of the F-16 that mysteriously crashed at Attock in northern Pakistan lost (see AFM April 1992). The Squadron currently has 8 F-7TP and 16 F-7P aircraft on strength which gives it a three tier operational role, air defence (ADF), dose air support (CAS), and strike/escort.

At the end of their six month training with 19 Sqn, pilots will have flown 75 sorties or 40 hours flying. Incidently, 19 Squadron’s cook certainly produces some of the best squadron mess food that the Author has experienced!

№25 Sqn ‘Eagles’

The Squadron was originally formed in January 1966 at PAF Base Sargodha as a Tactical Fighter Unit (TFU). However, being one of the first two fighter squadrons to be equipped with the F-6, the unit was assigned the additional task of converting pilots of other squadrons as well, many of whom were to take part in the 1971 war.

25 Sqn also went into action during the 1971 war flying 103 sorties out of Sargodha and Mianwali. In 1980, to augment its training capability, the Squadron received the FT-6 two-seat trainer.

The F6 conversion course also lasts six months and follows the same syllabus as that for the F-7. A total of 75 sorties are flown during that time comprising 40 hours flying. No 25 Sqn at Mianwali, today commanded by W/C Naeem Ashraf, also has a strike role.


Mianwali is certainly one of the most active bases in the PAF. Flying 6 days a week, with Friday a day off, each squadron is allowed two daily slots of 45/60 minutes duration. Flying normally commences at 8 am during the winter and 6 to 6:30 am in the summer. Mianwali is 600ft (183m) above sea level and has a 10,000ft (3,048m) long runway which is especially useful because the extremely hot weather encountered in the area during the summer requires longer take off distances. Temperatures can reach up to 48 degrees C and flying is suspended at 45 degrees C.

The PAF’s Chino Connection

Up until the 1965 war with India, the Pakistan Air Force was almost entirely American equipped, with F-86 and F-104 strike aircraft and B-57 bombers while the training element consisted of T-6 Horvards and T-37s.

After the war, and the subsequent embargo on US spares, Pakistan was reluctantly forced to look elsewhere for its combat aircraft and China was the obvious choice.

Anxious to gain a foothold on the subcontinent and ever aware of the threat that India posed, China stepped in to fill the void and in 1966 the first F-6s were delivered to Pakistan. The aircraft were ferried from Hotan, the four-ship flight crossed the Himalayas at Mach 0.9 and a height of 12km (39,370ft), the altimeters of early F-6s were calibrated in metric figures. Radio contact was in VHF only and the pilots wore Chinese-issue leather helmets and throat mikes.

The flight to Sargodha took 1 hr 20min.

The F-6, which in its ADF role is similar to the British Lightning, has a good power to weight ratio and climb thanks to its twin 7(165lb Shenyang-built Wopen-6 turbojets with afterburning which give it a top speed of Mach 1.40.

Its initial armament comprises 3 x 30mm cannons while its 57mm rockets are only capable of destroying soft targets. All F-6 overhauls were originally carried out in Shenyang, pilots and groundcrews were sent to China for training, until the opening of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra (see AFM October 1992) in 1985.


Whereas China provided an alternative to US fighter/attack aircraft, the logical replacement for US T-33 and T-37 jet trainers was the FT-5. In 1975, the first of 19 aircraft were delivered by sea in containers from Shenyang to Karachi where they were assembled and flown to Mianwali. The FT-5 is a Chinese-developed two-seat version of the MiG-17 powered by a simple, and extremely reliable, centrifugal engine.

Further deliveries totalling 25 aircraft were made in 1975 and the final batch of 20 in 1982-3. Again the FT-5s had to be sent back to China for overhaul by sea until Kamra opened.

The engine life of its non-afterburning 5,9521b st Wopen-5D turbojet is 200 hours and the airframe 800 hours.

PAF FT-5s are finished in three colour schemes, white and silver being the original colours when delivered from China, and a certain amount have been kept in these colours for identification purposes, while the blue/grey scheme has been applied following airframe overhauls at Kamra.


The Pakistan Air Force hod hoped to increase its purchases of the F-16 from 40 to 110 aircraft, but due to political constraints following Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme the US Government again suspended military sales to Pakistan on October 1, 1990, and once more Pakistan reluctantly had to look elsewhere for an eventual replacement for its ageing F-6s.

The F-7P Skybolt (although not the ideal choice, but readily available) was chosen, and first deliveries were made to Pakistan in 1988.

The F-7P, a Chinese development of the Soviet MiG-21 F powered by a 13.448lb st Wopen WP-7B turbojet, has a maximum speed of Mach 2.05 and can carry two air-to-missiles, AIM-9P Sidewinders or Matra 550 Magics, under each wing plus a single 480 litre or 720 litre belly tank for supersonic and subsonic flight respectively. For extended range it can carry three drop tanks.

The F-7s shock cone is computer operated and fully variable unlike the original MiG-21 F in which the centrebody had only three fixed positions.

The cockpit has also been completely redesigned making it considerably more ‘user-friendly’ than that of the early Soviet design. The F-7P has adopted the original MiG-21 F twin 30mm cannon fit and is armed with a pair of Norinco type 30-1 belt-fed cannon in fairings below the wing root, with 80 rounds per gun. It can also carry American Mk 82/84 and 70 bombs and cluster bomb units (CBU).

PAF F-7P Skybolts are unique in that this Chinese produced aircraft is fitted with an American AN/ARC 64 VHF radio, British Mortin-Baker ejection seats, and American helmets for the pilots.

Martin-Baker’s relationship with the PAF has been a long and happy one, starting with its Mirage variants, all of which are fitted with Martin-Baker Mk 4 and Mk 6 seats and were followed into service by the Shenyang F-6 which use the Mk PKD10 seat. A number of PAF pilots owe their lives to these seats and are currently proud members of the Mortin-Baker Ejectors Tie Club!

A new chapter has now opened in Martin-Baker’s involvement with the PAF with the introduction of its Mk 10L ejection seats in the F-7/F-7T and Nanchang A-5-III Fanton aircraft. The specific seat references are Mk PK 1012 for the F-7s, and the Mk PK 10LV for the A-5. Incidently, the F-7s are ferried from China using the Chinese Mk 4 seat which is replaced by the Martin-Baker Mk 10L in Pakistan and returned to China to be fitted in the next deliveries.

Further developments will be the supply of the Martin-Baker Mk PK 10LV seat for the China/Pakistan joint venture trainer, the NAMC/PAC K8. The prototype K8 is already flying with CN10/W seats installed.

Additional Western equipment to be installed in the F-7 has included an American Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system, a GEC 956 head-up display (HUD), a Chaff dispenser and an Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) System.

The 956 HUD system was introduced into the Skybolt in 1989 when GEC Avionics received orders from the People’s Republic of China worth some £30 million to cover the supply of a head-up display, air data computer and radar equipment designed specifically for the Chenadhu type 7 aircraft. The orders were placed by the China National Aero Technology import/Export Corporation (CATIC), which has responsibility on behalf of China’s Ministry of Aerospace Industry for imports and exports of aircraft avionics. GEC Avionics were assisted by their representative in Beijing, Jardine Matheson, throughout the negotiations.

Collaboration between CATIC and GEC began in 1979 and has resulted in one of the most successful high technology ventures yet established between China and the West. The collaboration has encompassed the supply of equipment, training, support of flight trials in China, and the setting up of local production facilities for avionics equipment. Only 40% of PAF spares for the A-5/F-6/F-7 fleet ore now imported from China, the balance including brake assemblies and drop tanks are all made in Pakistan.

A number of Chinese advisers are permanently based in Islamabad from where they visit various PAF bases. However due to the very intensive flying schedules at Mianwali, three technicians are permanently based there. The Pakistan Government favours the permanent presence of Chinese advisers in Pakistan not only because it saves travel costs, but to encourage a free exchange of information between the two countries.

The Future

It has recently been announced that China will deliver two more Squadrons of F-7Ps to Pakistan in 1993 and informed sources have quoted that Chinese experts ore currently working on a project to upgrade the avionics and radar systems of the aircraft in order to enhance its flight manoeuvrability as required by the PAF. At the some time, Pakistan’s Defence Minister, Syed Ghaus Ali Shah, is hopeful that the supply of F-16s will be resumed after the new US Administration has taken office. He also said that the purchase of French Mirage 2000 aircraft «was very much on the cards» and that a team of French experts had recently visited Pakistan to work the out feasibility of operating Mirage 2000s.

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