A Blogger's Guide to Beijing

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beijing’s Very Best Museum!

It must be so difficult when you plagiarise everything off the web, trying to guess what is correct and knowing what to ignore. Don’t you feel sorry for those people who can’t find the energy to get off their backsides and actually go and see what they are bullshitting about?

As I have mentioned so many times in these blogs, the amount of wrong information that is passed off as truth, especially in Chinese travel sites, is mind numbing in the extreme… And not just a little bit annoying for idiots like myself, who like to get out and about and explore the place.

Take Beijing’s aviation scene as an example. Such a mess of confusion is typical of the lazy so-and-sos who have put their “thoughts” together; for if you believe what you read, the whole of China has only one aviation museum (does chinahighlights.com really believe that the whole of China can be contained within Beijing’s fourth ring road? dughhhhh!); or answers.yahoo.com will tell you that Beijing itself has only one; tripadvisor.com ups the ante to two museums; aviationmuseum.eu lists three in Beijing; and just one site – hetzeldesign.com – claims there is a fourth being built in Futura City, with four other web sites plagiarising their copy, word for word.

Add to that the plethora of titles of the “various” museums and you have a problem… “The China Aviation Museum”, “The Aviation Museum”, “Beijing National Aviation Museum”, “Beijing Air & Space Museum”, “China Civil Aviation Museum”, “China Military Aviation Museum”, “Beijing Aviation Museum”, “Datangshan Aviation Museum “, “Futura City Beijing Air & Space Museum”… is it any wonder that everyone is confused?

So, for the record, I can certify that Beijing actually has three aviation museums… a civil aviation museum that I have blogged about before; an Air and Space museum which is situated on the campus of Beihang University (and which I intend to visit as soon as possible) and the ‘pièce de resistance’ – the China Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆), also known as the Chinese Aviation Museum, also known as the Datangshan Aviation Museum (due to its location adjacent to the mountain of the same name).

And what a place it is! If you have no time for any other museum in Beijing; nay, if you have no time for any other museum in China; nay… in Asia… oh, whatever! This has to be the very best museum that everyone should visit when they come to Beijing, bar none!

It was first opened to the public on Shahezhen Air Force Base on 11 November 1989, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, and expanded 20 years after that

The museum takes up over 1,000 acres, and according to many copy-and-paste sites there are more than 200 aircraft and more than 700 weapons and pieces of equipment spread out in three main exhibition areas. But the official blurb positioned at the entrance tells us “there are more than 15,000 pieces of Air Force weapons and equipments including more than 300 aircraft, 53 ground to air missiles, 32 radars, 61 anti-aircraft artilleries and more than 100 pieces of cultural relics.” I lost count of the number of aircraft as I was walking around, so I will plump for the official blurb, I think.

efore you even step into the museum grounds, one can’t help but notice the fact that the long approach road is actually an old airplane runway. Unlike the civil aviation museum, for this one you don’t need ID to be allowed in (for free!) – but if you are getting on in years, having an ID showing you to be over 60 will get you 50% off the cost of getting in to the extra areas you need to pay for…

As you round the corner at the end of the runway entrance, the first thing to meet the eye is a line up of planes used by the Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao himself. There’s a Li-2 used by him in June 1956, an Ilyushin IL-14 used by Mao on 23 occasions in 1957-8, and an IL-18 used by Mao on July 21 1967 – his last ever plane ride when he flew from Wuhan to Shanghai.

Turning left, one is then faced with a number of military planes such as Tu-2, Tu-4 and B-6 strategic bombers, a converted DC-8, and electronic jamming plane HG-5, and so on. Beautiful!

There’s also a lovely KJ-1 early warning plane, which unfortunately has lost its notice board telling you what it is. (Oh, and by the way, the majority of signs across the museum are now both in Chinese and in English – or should that read Chinglish – which was one of the main criticisms levelled at the place some five years ago.)

This SH-5 water reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft is one of the prettiest in the entire place, IMHO.

Across the so-called Hero Avenue, is a display of fighter and attack aircraft such as F-5s, F-6s, F-7s, F-8s, A-5s and so on…

… while if you keep on walking, you end up at the end of Hero Avenue at the ‘Integrated Hall’, which was opened in 2011. This was built to showcase the history of China’s Air Force, and along with numerous aircraft and weapons, there are also almost 2000 photographs, cultural relics, sand table exhibits, and audio and video tablets.

Entry to this building costs 20 RMB, but unlike outside, there is very little signed in English, except, of course, for a 'Preface’ to put you in the mood… “The worn photos, precious historical materials, actual weapons and equipment, with smoke of war, soaked hardships, shining the light of revolutionary spirit, tell the story of glorious history and brilliant achievement in Air Force equipment construction course.” (sic)

Of course, once you are inside there are the obligatory pictures of the good and the great…

But it’s the aircraft that most people are here to see…

And you can get right up close to them – so much so that there are numerous signs, attached to the underneath of jutting out wings and other paraphernalia, to warn you to watch out where you’re going.

You can go upstairs too, to look down on the aircraft…

… quite apart from admiring some of the uniforms used by PLA air crews (NOT, as one web site describes them ‘Uniforms of the Republic of China Air Force’! Oh my giddy aunt! China barely had an air force at the end of WWII, FGS, though now China’s air force is ranked among the world’s top three by size.)

If helmets turn you on, you can gawk at these too…

…or even a display of jump seats…

…not to mention a number of displays of aircraft artillery …

… including air-to-air-missiles…

… or even some of the engines used.

For the 50th anniversary of the founding of New China, there was by all accounts a spectacular fly-past; and here is a schematic of the aircraft that took part…

and lest you are not familiar with many of the aircraft littering the grounds of this vast museum, here is a chronological chart showing you their names and when they were in service…

Leaving this section of the museum, Chinglish springs back into life once more with an apt prologue to what we have just witnessed… “In a short span, cantabile years have gone. After decades of hardships and frustrations, a few generations by the blood and sweat, the Air Force cast an air fist to prop up a beautiful blue sky for people's happiness and peace.” Ahhh … sweet!

Outside again, and heading behind the Integrated Hall, we soon come across a Hawker Siddeley Trident and Antonov An-12 transport planes.

But what’s this? Looking over into the distance, across a fenced off section (but round a long diversionary path and through knee-length grass) there’s an aircraft graveyard where historical air models have been left to rot away in what is to be hoped will not be their final resting place.

There are no notices here, so I have no idea what these planes actually are…

…but some are quite beautiful in a rough and ready way…

… while some have obviously crashed and been left beyond repair in this forgotten corner of the old air base. No one seems to have ventured here for a very long time, save for me and one other ardent plane spotter who gives me a thumbs up in the universally accepted acknowledgement of ‘I say, not bad old chap’!

I walk back into the sea of humanity once more. Here is a collection of Z-8, Z-6 and Z-5 helicopters, built by the Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corp., based on a Soviet Mi-4 helicopter design.

Helicopters not your idea of fun? How about radar then? Here’s an LLQ-110 long distance surveillance VHF radar Y-12 which once had a range of 400km.

Here’s a plane belonging to the Central Air Transport Corporation,

which together with planes from the China National Aviation Corporation were ‘borrowed’ by the good guys (or stolen by the bad guys, depending on whose side you were on) and flown up to Tianjin to join the Communist cause.

More planes, and yet more planes, and ever more… how can one keep up with them all?

I turn another corner and am met with a line of 59-type 100mm calibre antiaircraft artillery, which apparently could fire 15 rounds a minute, with a range of 21 km.

Another turn, and this time it’s Chinese-built S-75 Dvina missiles, with the designation HQ-2, playing peek-a-boo through the trees. These medium-to-high altitude ground-to-air missiles could shoot up to a height of 24km, at a range of 12-34km.

Of course, we shouldn’t ignore a lonely grouping of aviation bombs stacked along a wall, should we?

But the bombs are soon forgotten when another turn shows off a row of 50+ Shenyang F-5 (MIG-type) fighter jets. If you ever wondered where Chinese MIGs go to rest in peace, you need wonder no more. This little collection has been spruced up a great deal in the past ten years (I came across an old web entry which showed them in a dilapidated condition, and the web author bemoaning the fact of how badly off they were. Unfortunately, try as I might, I can no longer find that web site.)

Further on from the F-5s, and back nearer the entrance once again I soon come across a huge stone sculpture dedicated to the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force that is guarded by soldiers and an eternal flame, in remembrance of past heroes.

Not many people bother to look behind it, whereas if they did, they could see a lovely relief rendition of the Great Wall as well as another wall or three with long lists of past heroes, who died in the service of their country.

I’m nearly back to where I started, but instead take another left turn, and soon find myself in front of yet another part of the museum that is located inside a cave that extends for some 600 metres into the side of Datangshan Mountain. This long U-shaped cavern, which takes up 5 acres, was originally part of the tunnels and underground bunker system of Shahezhen Airbase, and is now filled with row upon row of yet more planes and exhibits. It was even built with steel blast doors in case of a nuclear attack.

Once again, the poetic Chinglish scribblers take it upon themselves to put us in the mood… “One thousand years, soaring bird in the sky let people fall into a reverie and it's difficult to give up.... The pioneer of one hundred years suffering, joy, heroic and chasing dream sprinkle the ideal to the sea of clouds.” Hmmm, I don’t think I could have said it better myself.

At the entrance is a life-sized model of Feng Ru‘s 1911 biplane. Feng, you will recall, is considered the father of China’s aviation. It was he who not only made a number of trial flights, but before he met an ignominious end in 1912, he was also responsible for translating into Chinese the reports of what other aviation pioneers were learning in America and France.

But once again, this paid-for part of the museum (another 20RMB, I’m afraid) is noticeable for its absence of all but the most basic of Chinglish signs, leaving this one visitor at a bit of a loss as to what some of the exhibits are banging on about.

There were many small models of airplanes (unexciting after you’ve seen the real thing!).

And there were large notices that were all but ignored by all the other visitors…

I step into a section detailing engine design. Ah… a helpful sign in English I see.

"Now, in the world, at the moment that all sorts of aircrafts shake off the gravity, we can always hear the roar of aviation engine. However, why they can do this? originally, how they form the small doohickey to the large objects with hundreds of tons that can soar in the sky..." (sic)

The poetic guide who has written this obviously wants to earn his freelance fees to the fullest. There is no stopping him…

“It is decided by new engine that every new achievements of the aircraft in the process of development, engine is the necessary power source. It's testified by flied in one hundred in world that powerplant's development promotes the airplane's development.” I guess what he is trying to say is that without an engine, the planes simply wouldn’t fly!

I turn to an AΠ-31Φ turbofan engine made by Russia from 1976-1985. (Sorry, but I don’t actually find these engines very appealing, so I move on deeper into the cavern.)

Yes, once again, as far as the eye can see, this underground bunker system is filled with yet more planes. There’s a Viscount, a DC 8, a Pakistani F-86, an Egyptian MiG-23 and an Italian AF F-104. There are ‘cultural aviation treasures’ such as a MiG-15 numbered 08 which was the first fighter to damage and shoot down enemy planes in the Korean War; an F-5 numbered 0101 which was the first jet fighter manufactured by China; F-6s and F-7s which were the first generation supersonic fighters made by China… and so on and so on…

We are also told that “some planes were used by Japanese aggressors such as Kawasaki 99 bomber and Tachikawa 99 trainer. They are not only the witness of history, but also the negative examples used in patriotism education”.

There are also Tupolev Tu-2 light bombers which were put into service by the PLA Air Force in 1950…

There is also the Y-5 (made by Nanchang Aircraft Company and based on the Antonov 2) which was used to scatter Premier Zhou Enlai’s ashes on 15th January 1976.

I could go on (and on, and on) but I have a better idea. Why don’t YOU make the trip to this amazing museum next time you are in Beijing?

It is easy to get to, though it will take you a couple of hours from central Beijing. Simply take the subway to the very last station on line 5 – Tiantongyuan North – and take exit B. You will find yourself in a bus station, from where you take bus 945. Go to the 14th bus stop, called ASuWei and alight. From there, walk 100 metres and take a right, then 700 metres and take a left (at the T-junction) and 250 metres further on the museum is on your right.

Friday, August 26, 2016

CCAM Revisited

It’s been a while since I last visited China’s Civil Air Museum – over three years to be precise – and oh what a difference there is!

The number of visitors is slowly picking up, but they are still outnumbered by museum staff – which is a pity because…

Well, let’s go back in time a little before I get carried away…

You will no doubt remember from my last blog on this place how there were various old aircraft left to rot in a field just outside the perimeter of the museum, while inside was crammed full of every type of memorabilia of China’s aviation era with appropriate text (in Chinese only) telling you all about it.

Over 130 million RMB has been spent on the latest makeover, and now you can find a number of aircraft that have been moved inside the museum … not least the IL-14, which was used by Mao Zedong. It’s still in a pretty poor state, but at least it’s a good start in preserving an important part of China’s aviation history. There was a notice advising that for an extra 10RMB one could actually go on board the aircraft, but no sign of whom or where you could pay.

Of course, there are pictures of the Great Helmsman to accompany the aircraft itself;

As well as a picture showing the plush interior – with not a seat belt in sight!

Unlike when I came here three years ago, there are now signs in English as well as in Chinese.
“With the development of the world aviation industry, China made its own aeroplane a successful test flight in 1909.” (sic)

“And the first airport, Nanyuan airport, was built in 1910.”

“In 1911, Chinese pilot made the first flight over China’s airspace. The first flying school, Nanyuan flying school, was set up in 1913. However, China's early management organisation was very instable because of the political unrest.” (sic)

During the Second World War, large parts of China were occupied by the Japanese. Between 1942 and 1945, the China National Aviation Corporation, together with the US 10th air force division, undertook an airlift between Dinjan, India and Kunming, China – a distance of around 800 km. The Allied pilots called it The Hump as they had to fly over the eastern Himalayas. The Hump airlift contributed in no small part to the victory by resupplying the Chinese army and US Army Air force based in China.

Not only are there photographs of the Hump in operation, but also mementoes such as this makeshift flag that was given to the Allied pilots…

and this painting of a flight over the Hump by Chen Yingming.

On November 9, 1949, the Chinese Communist Party encouraged the China National Aviation Corporation and Central Air Transport Company to break away from the Kuomintang regime. The president of CNAC, Liu Jingyi, and president Chen Zhuolin of CATC declared the “two airlines uprising” and together with some of their staff took a CNAC CV-240 aircraft from Hong Kong to Beijing while the CATC pilots flew 11 aircraft from Hong Kong to Tianjin.

Between 1950 and 1952 new routes opened up, mainly from North China to the south-west of the country as well as regional routes in the south west. By the end of 1965 Beijing had become a network hub with 51 domestic routes to 50 cities and six international routes to five countries.

I love some of the many old photographs on display… such as this collage of “the first recruitment of flight attendant of China” in 1937…

Or how about “the first recruitment of flight attendant of China”, but this time in 1955. (Confused? So am I!)

This picture was taken in 1947… (BTW it wasn't until 1995 that married girls were accepted as trolley dollies!)

Fast forward to 1984 and my favourite Chinese airline, Xiamen Airways. But I have to say I prefer their uniform as it was 30+ years ago to what it is now.

A new addition to the museum are three long glass cabinets full of uniforms from the major airlines – Air China, China Eastern and China Southern. Some of them even look pretty glamorous, IMHO.

As for airport security – do you remember the “good old days” of everything being hand searched, such as in the early ‘80s”

The museum also has some redundant kit that has been “borrowed” from airports and airlines around China. Here’s what they call a “signpost of the aircraft stand” from Guangdong airport.

But let’s pop outside now. For a start the overgrown field where heaps of old aircraft were parked before is now no more. Instead, the individual aircraft are parked around the perimeter of the museum – such as this Y-5 which were made in their hundreds – of which 78 were exported to Albania, the DPRK and Vietnam. They still could do with a good makeover … the condition of some of them is pitiful … but I have no doubt at all that will come in time.

This Y-7 was flown by China Southern and based on the USSR’s AN-24 aircraft – a double turboprop medium range with a maximum capacity of 48. They were in use in China from 1970 until 2001.

As for this Trident – a three engined medium-short range jet from De Havilland – it started production in 1959 and this particular plane – B2207 – was used as a "special plane" by China's leadership. It’s in an awful state right now, but who knows what it will be like in the years to come?

Behind it, BTW, is an Airbus A310 which came into service with China Eastern in 1985. This plane – B2301 – was the very first wide bodied plane bought by China and when its flying days were over, Airbus repurchased it and gave it to the museum as a gift. Talk about good PR! (But I bet the PR gurus in Airbus wished someone would give it a damned good makeover too!)

As well as planes, there is also a motley collection of radar equipment, but none have any captions and it just rather looks like they have been abandoned here until such time as someone can get round to scribbling out a description of them all…

But let’s leave with a fond farewell to three rotting hulks on the western perimeter of the museum grounds… two Li-2 piston-engined aircraft imported from the Soviet Union that saw service between 1940 and 1986 standing guard on either side of a C-46 high performance twin engined transporter which was the main aircraft used when flying over The Hump.

It’s amazing when you consider that as of the end of 2015, China had a total of 2,645 civil transport aircraft owned by 54 transport enterprises with more than 45,000 qualified pilots including over 13,000 captains. China’s aviation industry has come a long way!

Oh, and if you are wondering how to get to this museum that no one seems to know or care about, try taking bus 359 from SanYuanQiaoDongZhan a total of eight stops (26 minutes) and get out at HePingNongChangDongZhan. You’ll need your passport or ID to be allowed in, but entrance is free.