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A day after China announced it had conducted successful landing exercises on its first aircraft carrier – a landmark for the country’s naval ambitions– State media mourned the death of a senior engineer who died during the weekend’s key tests.

Luo Yang, the head of production of China’s J-15 fighter – a new jet that was used in the exercises on board the Liaoning aircraft carrier this past weekend – died on Sunday after he experienced “a sudden heart attack” while participating in flight landing training, State media reported.

The successful exercises were, on Sunday, hailed by media outlets as a landmark achievement for the Chinese Navy as it prepares to deploy its first aircraft carrier. Luo’s death, however, on Monday cast a shadow on the feat. While official news outlets mourned the engineer as a national hero who sacrificed his life for the country, Internet users expressed concern over the immense pressure placed on scientists by the Chinese system.

Luo had played a key role in the production of the J-15, and was also involved in tests on board the Liaoning in recent weeks. The State-run Xinhua news agency reported that the J-15 jet had been delivered to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in September, following which it had taken part in take-off and landing tests on the aircraft carrier.

Following the successful exercises, the PLAN was “now capable to deploy fighter jets on the carrier”, Vice Admiral Zhang Yongyi told Xinhua on Monday, adding that pilots had “mastered key skills to ensure the success of the take-off and the landing, especially under unfavourable conditions such as poor visibility and unstable airflow”. Vice Admiral Zhang described the exercises as similar to “dancing on a knifepoint”, underscoring the difficulty.

The PLAN said five J-15 fighter jets had taken part in the tests. The jets, whose design is thought to be based on the Russian Su-33, was capable of carrying “multi-type anti-ship, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles”, Xinhua reported.

The success of the tests was hailed by official media as a cause for the nation to celebrate – and as a fitting response to some foreign observers who had cast doubt on China’s aircraft carrier plans. “Military enthusiasts should have every reason to hail the achievement,” Lan Yun, a naval expert, told the usually nationalistic Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper. “From now on,” he said, “China owns its complete carrier system.”

Wu Xiaoguang, an engineer at the aircraft carrier project, added in an interview with Xinhua that the first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, only marked the first step in the country’s ambitious plans to build a blue-water navy. “What I can tell you now,” he said, “is that the Liaoning is only a beginning”.

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