China is hitting back at U.S. claims that one of its fighter pilots behaved recklessly in an intercept over the South China Sea last week. The Air Force released video on Thursday of a Chinese Navy J-11 flying close to one of its RC-135 intelligence-gathering aircraft. The Air Force claimed the intercept was unsafe and the fighter got within 10 feet of the airborne listening post’s wing. The big spy plane ducked away from the fighter. “We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” the statement said.

China said it was the U.S. that was being provocative by violating international law and making “dangerous approaches” to the Chinese aircraft after ignoring numerous warnings. “The United States deliberately misleads public opinion … in an attempt to confuse the international audience,” spokesman Tian Junli said in a statement.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Someone with better eyes (and understanding of the fighter’s control surfaces) might be able to tell who was harassing who, here, but certainly I can’t! If the point of the video is to show that the fighter was flying dangerously close to the RC-135 it completely fails.

    • I believe part of the problem was the J-11 being forward of the RC-135. It’s hard to fly formation with an airplane that is behind you. Also, according to the article, spacing was only kept because the RC-135 descended. I would assume the J-11 is the more maneuverable airplane, so to expect the transport to keep the spacing is unreasonable.

    • As a former RC-135/KcC135/E-3 AWACS Instructor Pilot I don’t think you or that Chinese fighter pilot understand the physics involved in formation flying with large aircraft. There is a bow-wave that forms off of the nose of any aircraft, and in the case of a large aircraft it can be very dangerous for both aircraft if a smaller aircraft encounters it. We once had a mid-air collision when an F-4 Phantom was in almost that exact position with a KC-135 (they were violating procedure and the F-4 had come in close for a photo) and when the F-4 encountered the bow wave it threw the F-4 underneath the the KC-135 and the vertical tail struck the underside of the KC-135 below the cockpit. 14 inches of the vertical fin of the F-4 were ripped off and it put a large gash in the KC-135. Miraculously both aircraft survived the mishap.

  2. I can’t buy “incompetence” in either pilot. I can easily buy “intent,” as China has been ramming it down the world’s throat, making headlines (everywhere but in the US) with their increasingly bold / increasingly numerous incursions into Taiwanese ADIZs. The fighter pilot is trying to bulldoze the transport aircraft, and as neither aircraft is maneuvering (changing attitude) until the RC135 descends, it’s obvious the J11 will collide if somebody doesn’t do *something.”

  3. When the fighter slides right he’s got to be getting close to the RC135’s wingspan. Would his wake vortex disturb airflow over the 135’s left wing and cause it to lose lift? Is that a tactic?

    • Not likely, but it is possible to fly in front of the engine and disrupt the airflow and cause the engine to shut down. They have tried that tactic in the past.

  4. Common”Moderator”. Any pilot or AvWeb reader older than 40 should recall the Hainan P-3 event and President Bush’s “I’m sorry that the (Chinese) pilot died” statement that the Peoples’ Republic of China turned into a US apology for the lumbering US P-3 chasing down a much faster, much MUCH! more maneuverable fighter and deliberatly catching it in between its moving props. What’s to moderate from recorded history?

  5. Years ago I read where US fighters buzzed a Russian bomber near Alaska, kicked in afterburners and fried the windscreens and nose. Nothing new here, same game different adversaries.

  6. Who are most of you people? You all sound like a bunch of Chinese puppets believing every rebuttal the Chinese make after one of these incidents. Have you ever seen a Boeing 707 and it’s lumbering flight characteristics vs. a Shenyang J-11 (Copy of a SU-27) front-line fighter jet. To say that the RC-135 had anything to do with being aggressive is naive and beyond rediculous! The Chinese Government and Military are evil, and their intent is to destroy the US.