The Chinese Aviation Museum
In July 2002 Gijs Hiltermann visited the Chinese 'aviation museum', about 40 miles north of Beijing. A magnificant museum, with a large number of interesting aircraft and helicopters, all perfectly maintained - it's a long journey, but worth the trip!
Travelling through China is a unique experience - travelling freely is not always possible, and only a few Chinese speak english. Fortunately my local guide knew of the existance of this museum, and more importantly, the way to it. You can go there by bus, but that is not recommended; to find the right bus is difficult, they are mostly overcrowded and do not have air-con (when we visited it was 35° Celsius). But our Chinese guide was kind enough to arrange a taxi, tell the driver where he had to deliver us, wait there until we'll finished and drive us back to Beijing! Total price only 200 yuang (about 25 euro)! The museum is not easy to find, as there is a second museum, called the 'military museum', which also has some aircraft, and which is much better known in Beijing. Moreover the aviation museum is out-of-the-way, without any signs.
After driving for about one hour, we reached the entrance of the museum and payed 40 yuang each (about 5 euro) and learned that the museum is closed on Mondays. At the entrance there were some Chinese streetsellers, selling water (important!), Kodak and Fuji films and lots of model aircraft. Not only the Russian and Chinese types, but especially F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18 and Apaches are popular there.
The correct name of the museum is not clear. The museum calles itself 'China Aviation Museum Datangshan Changping'; Changping is the nearby village and Datangshan is the name of the only hill in this region ('shan' means hill). The museum was founded on part of an airbase; the runways are a mile distant and are connected to the museum by a long taxiway, which is also used as access for the traffic. Next to the museum the taxiway continues up the hill; in the hill is a large U-shaped tunnel, which, in the operational days of this part of the airbase undoubtedly sheltered numerous aircraft. Near to the taxiway there are some aprons and a hangar, so there is room for many, many aircraft, mostly military but also some civil ones.
Before we describe the contents of the museum, it is necessary to explain the Chinese aircraft notations. After the Second World War the Chinese air force mainly got Russian-built aircraft like MIG-15, MIG-17, Tupolev TU-4, and so on. Very soon China restarted its own aviation industry and manufactured these Russian aircraft under license, many types being radically improved. Their notation was easy: 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. The first Chinese built attack aircraft was called 'A-1'; a BT-5 is a Chinese built trainer version of the Il-28 bomber. The factories in China do not have a name; there are a lot of aircraft manufacturers, and they are simply indicated by the town where they are housed. Well-known plants are in Shenyang (F-2, F-5, F-6, F-8), Xi'an (F-5, F-6, F-7, H-6), Chengdu (F-7), Harbin (Y-5, Y-12, H-5, Z-5) and Nanchang (CJ-5, CJ-6, A-5).
The museum has three parts. First the tunnel, of which both entrances are guarded by an F-7 (the Chinese MIG-21). More than fifty aircraft are parked inside the tunnel in two rows, but photographing is difficult as it is rather dark. At one side there are a number of aircraft from WWII, both Chinese and captured Japanese aircraft. Then a number of aircraft from the period after the Second World War follow, like the MIG-15 and MIG-17, their Chinese alternatives F-2 and F-5, some F-6 and F-7s and an F-8. Some of the older F-2 and F-5s have the well-known 'MIG-kills' under the canopy; in this case they shot American and South Korean aircraft during the Korean war. Five MIG-15s from the Korean war (air force of North Korea) are present.
Further on are four A-5 'Fantan' attack aircraft and three beautiful B-5s (the Chinese IL-28), a standard B-5, a BT-5 trainer and a BR-5R reconnaissance aircraft. At the end of the tunnel there are some aircraft from abroad; a Sabre from the air force of Pakistan, an US Army UH-1H, captured in Vietnam, and the latest acquisition of the museum: an F-104S from the Italian air force. This Starfighter, coded 4-1/MM6795, was flown to China by an Italian Hercules and handed over by the Italian Ambassador to the museum in May 2001. Finally there is an Apache helicopter, but a closer look learns that it is a full scale mock up, made by a Chinese colonel in his spare time.
The second part of the museum is a 'flight line' of nineteen fighters parked on the taxiway outside. No ropes, fences or information boards make these aircraft perfect for photographing. One of the aircraft is a MIG-15 from North Korea, the others are from the Chinese air force. Four FT-2s (the trainer version of the MIG-15), one FT-6 (the trainer version of the MIG-19, very rare!) and thirteen F-5s (the Chinese MIG-17).
The third part of the museum are the aprons, the grass, the corners of the airfield and even the small lake. Here the large aircraft and the helicopters can be found, together with even more fighters. Some aircraft worth mentioning are the following - two giant TU-4s (the Russian version of the B-29 bomber) in Chinese colours; a TU-16 bomber, although this type is still active in the Chinese forces; two C-46 Commandos without any registration; four Russian built C-47 Dakotas of the Chinese air force; an Il-10, Il-12 and Il-14; the only Viscount the Chinese ever had; the AN-12, AN-24 and a TU-124. Also some AN-2s, two of which have floats! And a number of helicopters, including five Z-5s (MI-4) and two Z-6s (MI-8). Very fine is a Be-12 near a small lake, especially made for this flying boat.
Some civil aircraft can be found, like an AN-12, Il-18, Il-62 and even an American coded DC-8. When we visited the museum it was not busy with people, so that walking around, taking a closer look at the aircraft and photographing without people was very easy to do. And for the few Chinese visitors the most important curiosity was not one of the aircraft, but those three strange European people (a father and two grown-up sons), armed with cameras and notebooks!
In conclusion we think that this is a fantastic museum, the best one we ever saw (and we did visit a lot of them, all over the world). A large area, more than 150 aircraft stored in a beautiful way. The Chinese did a great job. It is a long journey - but then you have got something!!!