Gao Zhihang (Chinese: 高志航; Wade–Giles: Kao Chih-hang; May 14, 1907 – November 21, 1937) was a flying ace of the Republic of China in the Second Sino-Japanese War. On August 14, 1937, the 4th Air Force Group commanded by Gao shot down six Japanese planes, while suffering zero losses. Subsequently, Gao became a Chinese war hero.

Early life

Gao was born in Tonghua County of Liaoning Province into a Roman Catholic family on May 14, 1907. He was the eldest of six siblings.[1] Gao was admitted into the Education Class of the Northeast Army Officers as an artillery cadet. He was selected to receive flight training in France in the following year.[2] Gao returned to China in 1927 and was posted to the Flying Eagle Squadron of the Northeast Army under Marshal Zhang Zuolin and became a flight instructor in 1929.[1]

When the Japanese invaded Manchuria on 18 September 1931, he went south to join the Central Government and became an instructor in the Central Flying School near Hangchou. After returning from Italy after an inspection tour, he was made Deputy Chief of Instruction, and commander of the 4th Pursuit Group.[1]

Air battles

Battle of Shanghai

On 14 August 1937, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force Kanoya Kokutai dispatched nine Mitsubishi G3M1 Model 11 long-range bombers under the command of Lieutenant Commander Nitta to attack the Jianqiao Airfield near Hangzhou and nine under the command of Lieutenant Commander Asano to attack the Kwang-teh Airfield. The Japanese planes took off from Matsuyama Airfield in Taipei at 14:50 (local Japanese time), each carrying two 250 kg bombs.[1]

The raid was soon spotted by the Chinese and the Chinese intelligence reported that a number of Japanese bombers had taken-off from an airfield Taiwan, crossed the Formosa Strait and were heading north over Zhejiang in the direction of Hangzhou. At this time, Hangzhou was only defended by a handful of Curtiss Hawk IIIs flown by instructors from the Central Chinese Aviation Academy since reinforcements from Zhoujiakou hadn't been able to fly in due to bad weather. Colonel Gao had previously flown from Nanchang to Jianqiao to await the 4th PG's Hawk III's, which were flying in from Zhoujiakou in the Henan Province and which was under his command.[1]

As soon as hearing the bombing at the altitude of four thousand meters, they descended through the clouds, and found the enemy bombers in loose formation above the Hangzhou Bay. Gao Zhihang pinpointed a Japanese bomber and shot it down. Then the bomber crashed onto the bank of the Qiantang River. The Chinese Air Force won the first air battle against Japanese Air Force. Becoming a famous air hero all over the country, the 4th PG led by Gao Zhihang was named the "Zhihang Group".[2]


During October 1937, he was promoted to Commander of Pursuit of the Chinese Air Force, while remaining at the same time as commander of the 4th Group. By November 1937, Colonel Gao's 4th PG had re-equipped with the Polikarpov I-16 Type 5 and he led the second group in their return-flight to Nanjing on 21 November.[1]

While refuelling at Zhoujiakou Airfield, they were caught by some Japanese ten Mitsubishi G3M2s, who evidently were conducting a reconnaissance mission. The bombs were already falling when Kao ran to his I-16. The engine of the fighter wouldn't start and with the bombs falling closer, the ground crew, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, left the aircraft to take cover. Chasing after them, Gao brought them back at the point of his service revolver to help him start the engine but lost his life when a bomb exploded alongside the aircraft.[1]

At the time of his death, Gao had claimed 4 biplane victories, these being claimed while flying the Curtiss Hawk III. According to official record of the Republic of China Air Force he is only credited with 3.5 victories and thus awarded the Three Star Medal.[1]


Gao was promoted to Major General posthumously.[1] In 1940, the government announced August 14 would be Air Force Day to raise the morale of the Chinese populace.

He was the main character in the 1977 Taiwanese film Heroes of the Eastern Skies and the 2011 Chinese TV series Departed Heroes. He is also featured in the upcoming TV series Eastern Battlefield.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Colonel Kao Chi-Hang". Håkans aviation page. 
  2. ^ a b "Heroic figure: Gao Zhihang". PLA Daily. August 31, 2005. Archived from the original on 2011-05-16. 
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