Chinese Museum of Aviation

By Jaroslaw Kierat

During my last trip to China, I managed to snatch a few hours during a Saturday morning to pay a visit to the Chinese Aviation Museum. This is the central Museum of the Chinese Air-Force, and it contains some of the most interesting exhibits available in China - in total some 200 exhibits.

This museum is located close to Beijing, some 50 km north of the capital city, at the foot of a hill called Datangshan. It can be reached by bus or by taxi – I decided for the later. For the 45 minutes driving time each direction and a three hours stand-by I paid 500 yuen (about 50 Euro), which is not a bad deal compared to visiting Monino. The museum is quite well known, and it’s relatively easy to arrange for a car at any hotel reception (and I presume it’s also possible to better negotiate the fare). While the museum is doable in three hours, you better be in a good running shape – after that I was drenched. I’d propose, plan for double that time.

The ticket offices are on the right side just before the gate. The admission is about 50 yuen (5 Euro), which is only bettered by the USAF Museum in Dayton (which is free ;-) ).

In general, the descriptions in the museum have at least a basic explanation in English, which helps getting around.

The museum is built next to a piece of an old air-strip. It contains several taxi-ways, on which many aircraft are lined up, and – which is quite fascinating – a tunnel dug into the side of a hill.

After entering, there’s a huge square with a monument to the servicemen, flanked by a line-up of anti-aircraft guns and rockets. On the left side is a lake with a Be-6, front and left the lead to the main exhibition area.

Right-hand, where I started my tour, is an array of F-6 fighters and A-5 ground attack aircraft. These first are modifications based on the Russian MiG-19, amended by equipment required to fulfill different roles. The planes were manufactured by different factories, apparently making individual adaptations. A number of these machines feature therefore odd-looking bulges and antennas. Some painting schemes are quite colorful, and I wonder how many of these were actually in use.

At the end of this strip, there’s the entrance to a large tunnel. I presume this tunnel was an old shelter, and now serves well in preserving the more valuable display items. It is carved as a large semi-circle into the rock, with a second entrance maybe a kilometer further. The light in the tunnel is not very bright, which makes taking pictures tricky. On the other hand, with the cool temperature, I presume it’s quite well suited to preserve the exhibits on display.

Taking pictures is really difficult: Best is to bring along a tripod, but it’s only feasible early in the morning, when there are no other visitors. I shot most of the pictures free-hand, but using a vibration stabilized lens. In a very few cases it’s possible to support the camera on a box, a base or similar makeshift stand.

One thing at the entrance which made me look twice, is a collection box: it’s a bomb, with flower pots around it, a slot for the money, and a heart painted on it. While I definitely support historical restoration effort, a cordial bomb caught me off-guard.

The tunnel starts with a number of scale models of different aircraft and topics.

In the first section of the tunnel there’s an Italian F-104, but more interesting – also a skinned MiG-17. This aircraft is in quite a good condition, and it shows nicely the internals of that jet, including the engine. This is of particular interest for modelers, since such displays are not very common.

Another interesting item is a Yak 17 UTI, complete with the turbojet, and an open panel. Worth mentioning is also a restored Il-10 (older brother of the Shturmovik), which seems to be in a good condition. I have seen several of these airplanes in the museum, in different states of preservation (or decay). Apparently, there is a considerable number of these birds left in China, so it’s good to see a well-kept unit parked in the “treasure tunnel”. There are also several older MiGs (or to be more precise, their Chinese F- counterparts) and a Yak trainer on display. To my eye, the Chinese F-7 adaptation of the MiG-21 generally resembles the early PF-version of the Russian fighter, with the thin spine, and a small diffuser cone.

On the left side are some gems of this expo: a Mustang with a red star, originating from the early days of the Chinese Air-Force, as well as a Lavochkin 9 – all original, as far as I could discern, and a MiG-9, of which I’m not sure.

The section is finished by a F-8 fighter on an elevated display. This machine caught my attention: the aerodynamic concept is doubtlessly based on the MiG-21, yet with a second engine. The complete fuselage is stretched, in order to balance the design.

This long intake is also applied to the F-12 light fighter parked nearby, which otherwise resembles the F-5 Tigershark. I was wondering why such a concept would be adapted, with a really long air duct to the engine, and the corresponding friction losses, since this problem was already obvious to the German WWII aircraft designers, and apparent in most of the Luft’46 sketches.

The variant F-8-II parked outside already has a MiG-23-like front part, with the intakes at the wing root…

The next section contains a number of airplanes from the fifties, and a number of odd odd-looking replicas like the somewhat grotesque I-16, and a P-40 of the Flying Tigers. Some replicas in this museum are built around some original parts, like a Kawasaki Ki-48 99, having some of an original fuselage, or a Mosquito, on which an original wing is attached. Initially I was smiling about this approach, but if you see that a veteran car is still considered original, as long as the name plate is original, this re-use of original parts is maybe a better approach than letting them rot in a storage area…

There’s also the Y-5 (Chinese An-2) associated with a heroic deed, and a nicely preserved Tupolev Tu-2.

Thereafter is a MiG-alley, with a line of MiG-15 aircraft, which are declared as belonging to the Chinese Aces of the Korean War. Some have the original North Korea marking on, and are retro-actively decorated with red stars for downed enemy planes. Each features a plaque with a story and the achievements of the particular jet.

On the left hand – for me personally even more interesting – are several Il-28 (or Chinese B-5) in different variant. The one that caught my attention was a trainer version with a second pilot’s cockpit.

Right behind the Ace’s MiGs is a Sabre in Pakistani markings, declared as a F-86. The only information shown on the plaque is when such an airplane was first shot down by a Chinese pilot. Since I went deeper into this topic recently, I can say for sure that it’s a Canadair Mk6 (or CL-13B), all complete with a Martin Baker ejection seat. This airplane was actually formerly used by the German Luftwaffe. After the introduction of the F-104, Germany sold the remaining jets via Iran to Pakistan in a covered operation. The serial number betrays it as a machine formerly belonging to either JG72 or JaboG43 stationed in Oldenburg.

Towards the end of the tunnel there are some trainers like the Czech Let, and some Yaks on display, parts of a shot-down U-2 spy-plane, and a captured UH-1. Another somewhat grotesque display is a “1:1 model” of an AH-64 Apache helicopter, built by an enthusiast. That even outshines cool graffiti-camouflaged Mi-24 assault chopper.

I arrived quite early on that Saturday, just short after eight o’clock. During my venture through the tunnel I really enjoyed the calm peace, and all the space I had for lining up the foto-shots. On the way back, there’s suddenly a tremendous commotion: I was thinking about an alarm or something in this kind – but no: a swarm of school children, all neat in their blue uniforms flooded the area, shouting to each other, and “hello” to me. To over-shout the cacophony, the guides used megaphones to explain the exhibits. It was time to get some fresh air.

Once outside, I had a look at the monument, and a funny picture caught my attention: a tiny sparrow nesting in the muzzle of a huge AAA-gun.

I went over to the huge flying boat. The gigantic Beriev Be-6 is located over a small lake, made specially for the display. I could formally feel the positive Feng-Shui energies floating. Speaking of floating: the aircraft is setup on it’s beaching landing gear, with the floats reaching far over water. It’s not fenced, so a closer look is possible. It looks recently refurbished, and is quite a sight to behold.

Behind the flying boat is a “special aircraft” area. In my eyes another gem: two Tu-4 bombers (yes, the Russian B-29 remakes), one with an AWACS radar, the other with cruise missiles. While the signs demand to stay off the lawn, I could not really resist: I had to have a closer look. I’ve found a compromise saving the lawn and letting me come closer by using the concrete slab paths.

Behind this field is a row of aircraft sitting in the green, and slowly rotting away. These are several Chinese Y-5 (An-2), some on floats, with most of the paint peeling of. While I had to fight my way through shrubbery and thistles, I had to have a closer look. At the end of the line sat a decaying shell of an Il-10, which inspired the fascination of the morbid.

Adjacent, another line-up of jets started, with a considerable number of F-6 fighters, A-5 attack aircraft, but also – another highlight: two Tu-16 bombers. Below one’s open bomb bay, a small car was parked. I wondered if that’s the new payload?

One of the attack aircraft caught my attention: it had a banana-shaped nose, with a radar pointing down. I presume that’s for some new type of air-to-ground radar, but it definitely looked weird.

At the end of this line, there were two Tu-2 parked, missing parts of the fabric on some control surfaces, showing the ribs, and the internal finish: a challenge to the daring modelers (or detailing set manufacturers). It was also possible to look into the fuselage through the hatch at the rear bottom.

Another interesting display was a An-12 sitting in the grass. The bird was also freely accessible, and in a rather good condition.

This is the perimeter of the area in that direction, and apparently an aviation company was located at the nearby fence. Next to it was a junkyard of old aircraft shells, I could discern parts of a DC3, two Il-10s, and a number of Chinese Jets. Maybe that was what the bomb was collecting for.

Close to that is a helicopter garden with a number of exhibits, most of which are Mi-4s and Mi-8s (or their Chinese variants) The strangest one was a Z-6, which looks like a Mi-8 – CH-34 hybrid.

Next is a display of a number of civilian airplanes, among them former machines used by Chairman Mao (basically the Chinese Air-Force One) and some other officials. I liked the two C-46s.

Coming back to the Main taxiway, there's a children playground, including a carousel and some entertainment to keep the crowds of visiting kids busy. It has the advantage that it concentrates the youngsters, and leaves more space around the exhibits for the truly interested visitors :-) Next to the playground is the mentioned F-8II, the new Chinese fighter, a mix of MiG 21 and 23, with a two-engine configuration.

The last strip to visit is a road which is actually cutting directly from the entrance gate to the far end entrance of the tunnel. Along this way stands another line of silvery fighters, most of them MiG 15s, some even with North Korean markings. Further down the line are some newer fighters, like the F6 in different versions and some trainers. Interesting is also the last plane in the line: An F-6 trainer, or basically a MiG-19 two-seater, which was used as a supersonic trainer. While the planes themselves can be found in many other museums, the sheer amount of them in one place is something rather unique. Seeing the line-up of silver jets makes you feel transported straight back into the fifties.

Opposite the line-up there's a really colorful Rambo - style Mi-4, set-up as background for family photographs. Well, I could not resist, and had to get myself a souvenir picture :-)

At the far end of the line there are several passenger airplanes parked. The most notable is a Vickers Viscount in Chinese colors.

Walking back to the taxi I took a photo of the crowds strolling across the filed: Many kids and people in the blue school uniforms on a class excursion. I wish somebody took me to a place like this in my school-time...


For some more pictures, please visit my web-site. Overall I have to say that the museum is definitely worth a diversion for any Beijing visitor. In particular some rare earlier Russian planes are interesting, but the Chinese designs themselves are also something rather unique and deserve a closer study, too.

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