Sometimes, to read the entries on the web about things to see in Beijing can be exceedingly confusing, not least because the copy-n-paste brigade, who make up such a large proportion of China’s travel sites, not only get their information wrong, but in the case of Beijing’s air museums, regularly confuse one museum with another, such that the innocent visitor could well be forgiven for thinking that what they are reading about are one and the same and that somehow the museums have simply switched location.
And so it is that only in my fifth year here in Beijing am I finally able to tick off not one… not two… but three aircraft museums in Beijing in the space of three weeks.
I have already blogged about China’s Civil Aircraft Museum, to be found in the vicinity of Beijing’s Capital Airport; and the Military Aviation Museum which is located just off the Sixth Ring Road in Changping district. The third is to be found inside Beihang University, (previously known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics – 北京航空航天大学, and which is one of the ten highest ranking engineering universities in China).
Beihang University was founded in October, 1952, out of the merger of the aeronautical departments of nine other universities such as Tsinghua, Beiyang and Amoy (Xiamen). Situated in the centre of Zhongguancun Science Park, in an area of over 100 hectares, BUAA is China' s first university dedicated to aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
So it is no surprise that it should have its own museum.
Wikipedia would have you believe that the Beijing Air and Space Museum ( 北京航空航天博物馆) takes up 8,300 sq kms, though on a 100 hectare site this would seem pretty incredible, to put it mildly!
It was founded in 1985 under the name Beijing Aviation Museum and renamed after it was renovated in 2012.
On the Beihang campus maps you will easily find the museum labelled as building 19.
You first have to obtain a ticket from the window just to the right of the entrance. It doesn’t cost anything, but you have to show some kind of ID - though with the less than cursory glance afforded mine, I think I could have shown a Mars Bar wrapper and I would have been allowed in!
Oh, and don’t believe a word of what you read about their opening hours. Aviationmuseum.eu, for instance, tells you it’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30. They're wrong!. Visitors are only allowed in on Tuesdays and Saturdays after 9.30, all other days being reserved for students at the university, which is fair enough I guess as it is a research facility, though in fairness aviationmuseum.eu does add as an afterthought “The lineup of aircraft or opening times of Museums can always changing. Please check in with the museum, see contact.” (sic)
Once inside, you shouldn’t be surprised that all the notices are in Chinese only. It’s a university museum, after all, and was not set up for tourists to gawk at.
But most of the time it’s pretty obvious what it is you are seeing, even if one does miss some of the finer details.
On entering, there are a few model aeroplanes on display, but the moment you turn the first corner you are confronted with some small gyrocopters which look great fun! (Please dear Mr Santa Claus… I’ve been everso good this year, and if you were wondering what to leave me under the Xmas tree…..)
There is a collection of aircraft motors too, though I have to admit they don’t overly float my boat …
You can also get up real close to some wing structures or individual ailerons too. The other museums like to show off aircraft, while this one likes to show off bits of aircraft!
Or maybe landing gear is more your forte?
Or even aviation tyres which, of course, are very different from those used on land transportation vehicles.
Once you are through the bits-and-pieces part of the museum, the real stuff that most visitors come for is laid out before you. The museum contains several interesting aircraft of which the best-known is a Northrop P-61, the only one of four existing specimens to be located outside the United States. There are plenty of other interesting planes such as a Republic P-47, a Tupolev Tu-2, an Ilyushin Il-10, a Lavochkin La-11 and a MiG-9.
And I always enjoy the sight of a DC3, even if the engines have been removed like from this one…
Or this smart Irkut-14, which has had part of its wings removed to be able to squeeze in to the display hall.
There are over 20 planes in all ...
Here’s the P47D.
Some planes, such as this Irkut-28 have been prepared so you can see through into the inside from one side of the plane, while still seeing the outside covering if you stand on the other side.
And you can look down onto all these planes from an overhead walkway, which even has its own plethora of aviation models hanging from its ceiling. Ahhhh a British Vulcan… How beautiful!
There’s even a model of the Liaoning aircraft carrier, made to look as if it is gold plated. It is a 1:350 scale model complete with FL-3000N missiles and aircraft on deck.
But Beihang is more than just about aircraft. After all, it is an aviation and aerospace museum.
And actually, when I said all signs were in Chinese, I should have said all EXCEPT for a display in the aerospace department telling you everything you ever wanted to know about the Beidou satellite system…
There’s a pretty model of planet earth with a number of happy-looking Beidou satellites circling around it.
as well as more matter-of-fact satellites strung up from the ceiling which look like they mean business!
And if you want to know what the well dressed (Chinese) astronaut is wearing you need look no further…
Of course, there’s also a display of Chinese space rockets such as Shenzhou, and other explorer vehicles, together with loads of other things, too numerous to mention here…
All in all, you can spend a good 45 minutes to an hour in this museum, which is well laid out and, despite the lack of English signs, has been well put together.
But if you are intent on seeing all three air museums in Beijing, might I recommend you see this one first, followed by the civil aircraft museum, and leave the very best – the military aircraft museum – till last.
* To get to Beihang Air and Space Museum, take Line 10 to Xitucheng station and take exit A. Head north on Xueyuan Road, staying on the west side of the road for about 500 metres until you come to the main entrance to the university (first picture in this blog). Enter the campus and walk 300 metres to the third building on the right.