'The Flight to Zhuhai,' Illustrated Edition

The item posted a few minutes ago on this site, which is part of the 'China Takes Off' special coverage we are featuring this month, is drawn from the introduction to my book China Airborne, whose official pub date is a week from today. Also: the current issue of Popular Science has a nice (in my view) excerpt from the book describing how China is planning to cope with the environmental consequences of its aerospace boom.

A few words to put this excerpt in context. It describes my wild-and-woolly first encounter with the world of small-plane flight in China, soon after I moved there in 2006. The larger point of the book is to ask whether the whole roiling, exciting, fast-changing, uncontrollable Chinese "miracle" of the past generation will lead the country to a further level of technological and economic sophistication -- or limits of various sorts are now coming into view. That is, it's a "China Takes Off" question. This section gives a glimpse of an area where China's government strategists and individual visionaries (and boosters and idealists) are trying hardest, and fastest, to remake their country's fortunes -- and their own.

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A word to aviators: the last part of this excerpt describes how Peter Claeys, my friend who was "pilot in command" for this flight, and I reacted when the instrument-landing beam at Zhuhai airport momentarily failed. I have deliberately put the description in slow-mo terms. In reality, no more than two or three seconds passed between an indication of trouble and our glimpse through the clouds. Claeys's hand was on the throttle instants away from pushing it full-forward for the "go missed" procedure. But three seconds of chronological time felt like about ten years of emotional time, which is why I have described it the way I did.

Now, to the photos. I mentioned that we had some trouble finding "AvGas" to get the plane fueled in the first place. This is the kind of thing I had in mind. This is an actual photo of refueling the plane at the Changsha airport, about an hour before we took off. That's Claeys in the truck along with staff members of the Broad Air Conditioning company. I explain in the book why the Broad people were involved.

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Here is how it looked when the same plane was being refueled in Japan, on another trip I took with Claeys.


As I explained several years ago, the two photos reminded me that Japan was all about the way of doing things, and China is all about finding a way to do things.

In the excerpt I describe the three "souls aboard" on this eventful but turned-out-fine flight: Peter Claeys, our Chinese friend Walter Wang, and me. Here we are, in grateful mood after landing at Zhuhai -- from left, it's Claeys, Wang, Fallows:

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This excerpt talks about a famous Chinese female aviator and business woman, Chen Yan. We spent the evening in her "Blue Angel" bistro in Zhuhai, whose walls bear many photos of her, like this one:


And the point of this trip was to get the little Cirrus SR-22 in which we were flying to the Zhuhai Air Show, where producers and purchasers from around the world gather to display and inspect their wares. The vast expanse of the Zhuhai runway and ramp area, barely used most of the year, is during the air show covered with aircraft large and small. If you look really hard, you can see the same Cirrus SR-22 in which we had been flying nestled beneath the tail of this gigantic Russian airplane.

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The excerpt also talks about the "booth babes" who were a notable feature of the Zhuhai air show. I have some pictures of them, too, but for another time.