Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fly through time tunnel to see China's aviation history

BEIJING, July 23 (Xinhua) -- China Aviation Museum, Asia's largest aircraft museum, is on top list of Xinhua's recommendation to foreign tourists who might be interested in aircraft, or just feel like sitting in the plane once used by Chairman Mao.

The museum is in Xiaotangshan Town of Changping District, about 33 km from downtown. It houses a huge and impressive aircraft collection.
Chairman Mao's personal plane, the museum's most valuable treasure, is something you should not miss.

Numbered IL-14, the plane is surrounded by anti-aircraft guns, ground-air missiles and a Chinese F-12 fighter pointed skyward in display.

By paying an extra five yuan, visitors are allowed to see the inside of the plane, which served Chairman Mao from 1957 to 1958 on 23 flights. The 17-seat aircraft at one time could make a non-stop flight of eight hours and 10 minutes. Its cabin, however, is a bit dilapidated since it has not been used for 14 years. Inside there is a bed, a sofa and a desk, along with a photo of Mao, sitting in the plane wearing a preoccupied expression.

IL-14 is just a taste of a tour around the vast and silent museum. As Asia's largest aviation museum, it displays 300 aircraft representing 120 different types, 47 of which are Grade Acultural heritages, and over 10,000 items including military equipment such as ground-air missiles, radars, bombs, cameras, costumes and parachutes as well as models.
It receives more than 300,000 visitors every year, including national leaders, leaders of People's Liberation Army (PLA) and foreign delegations.

Zhao Yan, a 7-year-old girl who was visiting the museum when we got there, told Xinhua that she believed children from other countries would also like this museum. She herself had begged her mother to bring her to the museum several times.

The museum has a tunnel exhibition hall and an open-air exhibition hall.

TUNNEL EXHIBITION HALL

Famous throughout China for its massive hangar, the half-mile-long tunnel was built as a shelter through the bottom of a mountain in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Now it houses an aircraft collection that will give you a chance to fly through this time tunnel to view China's aviation history.
This 20,000-square-meter hangar exhibits ancient aviation inventions and a series of "Chinese aviation firsts":
-- A replica of the aircraft flown by Feng Ru, China's first aviator. The plane Feng built first flew on Sept. 21, 1909, less than six year after the Wright Brothers' flight. Feng died in August 1912, when his second plane crashed during a fly-past in south China's Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.
-- A replica of the first plane manufactured in China, biplane "Rosamonde", was named in 1923 after the English name of Madame Soong Ching-ling, Sun Yat-sen's wife.
-- A Y-5 transport, copied from the Soviet Union's An-2, China's first utility aircraft. On Jan. 15, 1976, this transport, was used to scatter the ashes of Premier Zhou Enlai over Miyun reservoir, Tianjin (the city of Zhou's youth) and the Yellow River.
-- A U.S. P-40 Tomahawk. It boasts the famous markings of the Flying Tigers -- the nickname of the American volunteer group that flew for the Nationalist government against the Japanese invasion troops during World War II, when six Chinese pilots also joined the Flying Tigers.
-- An A-5 Attack Aircraft, a supersonic jet attack aircraft, also the second type of aircraft developed by China. This A-5A once successfully dropped the hydrogen bomb for the first time on Jan. 7, 1972.
-- An F-5 Fighter, the first jet fighter made in China based on the MiG-17. This plane "0101" displayed in the museum is the first one of the first batch.
-- An FT-1 Trainer, the first subsonic jet trainer plane designed and produced by Shenyang Aircraft Company in 1956.
-- A U.S. P-51 Mustang Fighter. P-51s were the main planes of the first flying squadron of the People's Liberation Army. Nine P-51s were reviewed on the first National Day of the New China.
OPEN-AIR EXHIBITION
The exterior exhibition displays aircraft once flown by PLA Air Force heroes, planes that used to serve famous people, including the above-mentioned IL-14, and aircraft representing achievements in Chinese aviation history.
Some worth noticing and photographing include:
-- Two giant TU-4 bombers in Chinese colors;
-- Four C-47 Dakotas transports of the PLA Air Force;
-- A number of helicopters including five Z-5s and two Z-6s;
-- A Be-6 near a small lake. The lake was especially made for this floatplane.
MORE TIPS
The museum opens at 8:00 a.m and closes at 5 p.m from Tuesday to Sunday. The ticket price for adults is 50 yuan (7.3 USD) per person and for children 25 yuan (3.65 USD). You can take the 643 bus from Andingmen Subway Station, or take a taxi. The telephone number is 86-10-61784882.
Interpreters in the museum are ready to accompany you for the whole trip and they will explain things in English.
Lighting in the tunnel is kept low, which makes photographing inside difficult. And it's a bit cold to stay for a while at the bottom of a mountain, so you had better bring along a thin coat.
Being aware of some basic Chinese aircraft notations will help you with a clearer idea. Attack aircraft are indicated with an "A", bombers with a "B", fighters with an "F", transport aircraft with an "Y" and helicopters with a "Z". In some cases a "T" for trainer or "R" for reconnaissance are added.
Perhaps this cool haven will be even more attractive to tourists during the Dog Days of August than even the Great Wall.

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