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.