Wings over Guangdong
A journey to the Chinese airscene : Airshow China 2012, Zhuhai
Airshow China is the growing event in the Asia-Pacific area. Last event was held from 11th to 14th November 2012 at Zhuhai-Sanzao airport, southern Guangdong. It finely reflected the raising military power in China. This nation nearly quadrupled its military budget over the last ten years ; this policy led to the growing number of military aircraft projects being led by CATIC and CAAC companies, so as to hastily modernize all Chinese forces. Though Shenyang and Chengdu are producing new combat airplanes in a kind of competitive manner, few latest up-to-date technologies and platforms were on display. Noticeably the J-15 - actually being on tests, and due to enter service on board the Liaobing aircraft carrier - was a no-show, while all stealthy warplanes were hidden from the event. Many observers have hoped until the last show day, a “ latest addition-to-the-program” J-20 flypast. Surely they were disappointed, and obviously no more appearance could have been expected there from the Shenyang J-21/J-31/F-60 which only performed a first flight a few weeks before the Chinese show. A J-21 superb scale model was on display in the hangars.
Being very much looking for what is flying in the Pacific area, I expected the J-10 on flying display and was not disappointed at all. What a skilled national team were these “August First” guys, flying six Chengdu J-10 A and Bs. Around 200.000 spectators gathered at the Zhuhai show during the last three days of the week, when the gates were opened to the public. They could witness the chinese built six single-engine jet fighter team’s guys, climbing into their J-10s in front of them. The team performed as a six-ship formation, but from time to time, the twin-seat solo J-10 B was performing tight manoeuvers. All in all it was just noisy enough, and these purple and orange trailing smoke Chinese “F-16-like” jets might do even better in the future years. People were crying loudly at each core moment on the full display. It was difficult to understand why the Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder only flew one time on three public days.
Newest Z-8 and Z-9 combat helos were on show. But no more Chinese military items came to the skies, and this would have been sad for the show, if the display had not been enhanced by Breitling company. The tendency to order display acts from Europe by a China airshow organization may be a proof there is a willing to strengthen and develop this type of air events. Walking through the exhibitions, I was astonished to cross thousands of people quite representative of the Chinese emerging middle class, with kids and 1980s camera equipment. Some of them easily told me how they had no hesitation to drive 200 kms to attend China Airshow. Some came from Shenzen , even further away from Guangdong. Curious people were not shy to take pictures of me, being astonished to see a French photographer lost inside the chinese crowd, with big lenses on a stepladder.
Famous swiss watch company sent the Breitling Jets from Dijon, the guys performing fluently every day on seven L-39s . The Breitling Jet Team reached Sanzao from France, at the end of a huge travel with stops and refuels at Pragha, Riga, Moscow, Tyunmen, Novossibirsk, Krasnoiarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Bator (Mongolia), Hohhot and Zhengzhou. From UK, came another Breitling team, theWingwalkers, flying two Boeing Stearmans, the ladies proving very much popular with the Chinese crowds, once they had proven they could not drop from the wings while they were in the air… Perhaps this glamorous team was the most successful of all participants with visitors, but one has to read local newspapers to be aware that power and noise still makes the show whatever else there is to see in an air display. Every afternoon, the four Su-27s and single seat Su-27 UB from the Russian Knights team, performed a perfect formation using lots of flares. As it was not enough, they practiced two times a day on each public day : once in the morning and once at coffee-time. On week days B to B meetings were interrupted by the Saturn engines noise, as businessmen fled the booths and pavilions to watch the typical Russian-fashioned program.
But sky colors were not glorious though. Having spent three days at Sanzao, I never experienced a single shade of sunlight. A cloud base remained all over South Guangdong for days, still high enough to take a few pictures. But perhaps, the weather explains why Yves Rossy was waiting on the ground, has he could not perform his famed “Jetman” act through the cloud base. First and foremost, I am an action photographer experiencing photography with moving airplanes, but one reason to be satisfied was for once with the static display. Few would argue they have seen a Xian H-6 bomber parked next to a J-10, a JH-7, a JH-8 in their life. Cheese on the cake were the JJ-2 and JJ-6 vintage fighter aircraft. The JJ-2 was flown by Wang Hai, a Chinese ace in from 1950 to 1953. While at the 3rd Fighter Division, he shot down 9 US airplanes. Suffice to remind that both the Soviet Union and China had sent some of their most skilled fighter pilots to the conflict, to fight along with the North Koreans.
Airshow China event as a whole looked as an aviation trade space intended to feed the emerging chinese market . Russian representatives were very much busy there, discussing a possible Su-35 sale to the Chinese PLAAF Air Force. It looked like if the Russians were willing to supply the Chinese with the latest Flanker, provided Beijing agreed for a very large number of airplanes contract. The prospect to see Russia’s latest 4th Gen. technology – with thrust vectoring - falling into the Chinese hands, who may reverse engineer it later, is set to be agreed on its highest price only. Light aviation is very much expanding in China, as shown by the presence Cirrus SR-20 and SR-22 participation. To most visitors point of view, COMAC ARJ21 airliner prototype was the real star. COMAC company announced that the ARJ certification by the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority is scheduled in 2014, with first deliveries to Chengdu Airlines due to start in 2014.