By Paul Hodges.
The group met on Thursday evening at Heathrow to fly overnight to Beijing, arriving late Friday morning, we were efficiently picked up by our local guide and transported to our hotel before we have time during the afternoon to stretch our legs exploring this bustling city of new shopping malls and many fast food restaurants. With a blue sky and a warm wintry sun it’s a good start. In the evening we are taken to a nearby restaurant for dinner; the rotating table centre is put to good use as several steaming dishes are served, as one plate empties being replaced with something different. A real banquet enjoyed by all.
On Saturday we visit the Military Museum of the Peoples Republic of China. This vast museum has two large wings of four floors displaying the fascinating military and political history of China recent additions include models and artefacts from China’s successful space programme. A display of Russian and Chinese made MiG fighters includes a Shenyang J-8 1 Finback, and outside but under cover the remains of a Taiwanese U-2, plus a Tu-2S, a Tachikawa Ki-55, plus several other aircraft. After a sumptuous lunch we visit an old part of the city, exploring the narrow streets by cycle rickshaw, followed by a visit to the Drum Tower. Climbing the 69 steep steps of this ancient building to gain views over the city and experience the unique drum playing on the huge drums. With time to spare we visit a local theatre to see The Flying Acrobats, an impressive fast and furious show of tumblers and acrobatics performed as only the Chinese do. Then dinner in a restaurant specialising in Peking duck.
Next day we travel to the China Aviation Museum at Xiaotangshan, at the foot of Datangshan. Rated in the top five aviation museums of the world, this is well deserved. This huge site has been transformed since our last visit in 2005 by now having an impressive entrance, paved walkways and landscaped gardens, conference hall, several statues and monuments, and most noticeable the large impressive display hall.
First aircraft to be seen is the line of transport planes for Great Persons including a recently restored Viscount; behind is the lake with a Beriev Be-6, to the left is an avenue for bombers and special purpose planes, a Tu-2S, several jet bombers and the Tu-4 AWACS with rotodome. New to the museum is a Harbin SH-5 flying boat and DC-8 used as a flying eye hospital. Displayed outside are several jet fighters as well as a Mil Mi-6 and a Y-7 (An-26) a transport area and a much enlarged helicopter area. Next to the original long line of early jet fighters is a missile area leading to the tunnel. With only half the number of aircraft displayed in this dark tunnel as previously it is still a large collection which now includes a Pakistan Air Force Mirage 111, Taiwanese Northrop F-5F, a Nanchang JL-8 jet trainer, an additional Tu-2S in North Korean markings and a MiG-23 in Iranian Islamic Air Force markings. One end is now a large display area representing a 100 years of Chinese aviation, it includes the Yak-17UTI, JF-17 Thunder (mock-up?) and Nanchang CJ-5 primary trainer.
The vast new display hall has a display of new jet fighters; Chengdu J-10 single seat in prototype 1001 markings and two-seat 1002 are displayed with a Shenyang J-11, the Chinese built version of the Su-27 Flanker. The main hall has been filled with aircraft, some hung from the ceiling, several have been transferred from the tunnel and repainted in PLAAF (Chinese Air Force), markings. New is an unmarked Xian JH-7 Flying Leopard fighter-bomber, displayed with other Chinese jets, dominating is a Xian H-6 bomber (Tu-16), above a PT-19 Cornell and Stinson L-5 now in PLAAF markings. An amazing collection of well maintained aircraft including so many unique types something in the region of around 200 aircraft at the museum, the tunnel and new hall have a separate cover charge of around £2 for access but great value for money.
Monday, our last full day in Beijing is set for sight seeing around this historic city beginning in the morning at Tiananmen Square and the huge Forbidden City, lunch at a specialist noodle restaurant rarely visited by foreigners, delicious. This was followed by a visit to the Summer Palace (temperature now down to 4 degrees but sunny) followed by the Temple of Heaven; although some of us have been here before sight seeing here is always a must do event. Another huge evening meal before going to the Red Theatre to see a spectacular Kung Fu stage show performed in English. Unfortunately the Beijing Aviation Museum is having a complete overhaul and is closed until completion and two new aviation museums in Beijing are not currently open to the public (the Civil Aviation Museum and the Space Museum) due to construction work. Next day we set off to the airport now accustomed to the incredible driving in the busy traffic, constant lane changing and continuous use of the horn all at high speed. Arriving in Shanghai we explore the suburbs before being taken to dinner at a local restaurant.
Wednesday and Thursday are our two days in Shanghai where we had a mix of aviation and sight seeing visits. The first was to a Chinese aircraft carrier mock up located in the National Security Education Gallery in Oriental Land, part of the ‘Oriental Green Boat Park’ theme park; this training aid has several A-5 Fantan and two J-6 (MiG-19) fighters on deck and a display of tanks and military vehicles inside the hanger deck. Moored alongside is a Type 23 submarine (Russian Romeo class). Nearby the aircraft-parking apron has a display of military aircraft including several MiG fighter variants, Harbin H-5 (Il-28), Xian H-6 (Tu-16), An-24, Mi-8 and a Nanchang CJ-6. Every journey by road in Shanghai is a white knuckle ride, somehow we arrive safely in central Shanghai for our customary large lunch before ascending the Pearl Tower for some superb views of Shanghai, explore Nanjing Road and The Bund as the late afternoon sun sets and the lights begin to come on. We finish the day with yet another excellent dinner.
Various web sites indicate there are aircraft displayed at the city’s Jiangwan Tiyuchang Park, however, it is a sports complex and there are no aircraft at the location. What could have been a second disappointment was that the Shanghai Enthusiasts Centre is closed for renovation of the offices and public access is not allowed until completion. Paul contacted the archivist who personally escorted us around the small but interesting collection that includes a DC-8, Il-14, Harbin Z-5 (Mi-4), Nanchang CJ-6 and various fighters. After lunch, Paul worked his magic again by obtaining access to the CAAC China Airlines training academy at Lunhua to see their 4 a/c (relocated from the closed airport), Il-14, Nanchang Y-5 (An-2), An-24 and a BAe 146. The remainder of the afternoon was spent with more sight seeing before another gastronomic experience.
Friday we fly to Zhuhai for the 8th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition this year supported by the PLAAF, the reason for visiting China; our flight was delayed due to the air show but this is soon forgotten as we are greeted with hugs from our glamorous young guide. We were on our own for the evening meals, the local restaurants do not cater for English tourists, we found an excellent restaurant and caused great amusement to the polite staff when trying to order, the food was the best yet.
Two days were spent at the show; the town is over 40k from the airport taking just over one hour to get there from the hotel, it took over two and a half to get back due to very heavy traffic on the only route. If the driver had not been aggressive it would have taken much longer as driving standards are unbelievably bad! We arrived at 9am, and went straight in with no delays despite full security; it is bright and sunny but hazy, temperatures were forecast to reach 27 degrees. With three large permanent pavilions, two of which devoted to Chinese companies including a large display for the space programme, there was a lot to see. By western standards there is limited flying and not many static aircraft, this is more than compensated for by the unique aircraft that are there, they can only be seen in China.
The static display included a Shaanxi KJ-200 AWACS based upon a much modified Y-8 (An-12), AVIC AC313 civilian version of the Super Frelon and AVIC MA600 airliner based upon the Xian Y7 (An-26), a AS332 Super Puma of the China Rescue Service, a Hongdu L15 combat trainer (similar to a Yak-130) and some light aircraft. In the public area were a Xian H-6H (Tu-16), JH-7A Flying Leopard, J-8E Finback, Harbin Z-9WA (SA365 Dauphin 11), a Pakistan Air Force J-17 Thunder, an AVIC L7 sport and primary trainer plus several light aircraft, and a ARJ21 small jet airliner parked on the main pan. The line of display aircraft including the nine Nanchang K-8 jet trainers of the Pakistani Air Force Sherdils team, with two PAF J-17 Thunder aircraft and seven J-10s of the PLAAF 1st August display team including a two seat J-10SY resplendent in their new dark blue, white and red markings.
Flying displays begin with some light aircraft followed by the AVIC AC313 helicopter. The Red Eagles, an aerobatic team from the USA flying a Talon Eagle and Red Eagle (with straight lower wing) variants of the Christen Eagle, create huge excitement and much cheering for their very eye catching display. Now its the Pakistani Air Force slot, the loud roar of their J-17 Thunder can be heard about to take off then banking hard just after lift off as the pilot fully demonstrates the agility of this able fighter, giving a very impressive first public display. He is followed by the 6 K-8’s of the Sherdils display team, four aircraft in close formation trailing red smoke (for the Chinese) and the two singletons performing crossovers trailing green smoke (for Pakistan). A PLAAF Z-8 (Super Frelon) lifts off and slowly circles gaining height, the test streamers indicating that there will be parachutists. The first three carry large 50 x 30 foot flags of the PRC and PLAAF, the next five each have coloured smoke trails, the next four have long strings of firecrackers, four more have lines with six smoke canisters. The next four trail smoke but lower down they fire flares each side in unison. Finally seven individual parachutists complete the jump. There is now a lunch break, the crowds dispersing to go eat. This gap allows the airliners to land or take off.
The flying resumes after 1.30pm, the haze has largely burnt off now and the sun has moved around towards the western end of the runway. The display is largely a repeat of the morning’s performance but with the addition of the AVIC MA600 airliner and the stars of the show, the 1st August Team of six J-10s from the PLAAF. The locals crowd the flight line and cheer enthusiastically every pass and crossover. A fine performance by this team demonstrates the Chinese Air Force can be every bit as professional as the rest of the world. Apart from some light aircraft the flying is finished by 4.0 pm. The 200,000 plus crowd soon disperses, by 5.00 pm the light is fading fast, but first a visiting Shaanxi Y8C (An-12) to photograph; unfortunately an Il-76 was too far away.
Returning for the second day again getting in was quick and easy; the weather was much clearer and the crowds even bigger and very friendly, many wanting to chat or be photographed with us. The flying format is the same so we could relax and take different angles of the aircraft. Two great days at a unique air show.
Monday began with a short journey to the modern and spotlessly clean ferry terminal for the 70 minute Fastcat jet ferry to Hong Kong for a two- night stay at the BP International Hotel (turns out to be the HQ for the International Scout Movement BP = Baden Powell). After checking in, it was time to explore Kowloon before another evening banquet. No problems with language tonight as the restaurant manager (and the majority of people) speak English. After dinner it was down to the harbour for the free laser light show. Tuesday is a sightseeing day, we take the funicular railway up to Victoria peak, explore Repulse Bay, Stanley Market and Aberdeen Fishing Village including an interesting sampan ride around the harbour. Early evening we take the ferry across to Soho and use the world’s longest escalator up the steep hill to find a suitable restaurant. On our last day prior to our departure home, we hire a small bus to explore the hills and New Territories visiting a walled village near Sek Kong, the old army base, up to the Chinese border with its electrified fence before going to the magnificent Kap Shui Mun bridge leading to the new airport.
A really memorable trip, some magnificent museums and a unique air show with many aircraft on display for the first time that simply cannot be seen anywhere else. Memorable for the many friendly helpful people we met, for the unique sights of China and the great food (this was beyond doubt the finest BAES Gourmet trip ever). This was the friendly face of the PRC. Looking forward to 2012.
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