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PRINCE TSI TAO and Y.L. Lee are the only Chinese aviators listed in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, 1913. In my next Jane’s, six years later, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, 1919 states that four more Chinese had joined them on its First Aviators list. By 1920, China’s history in the air was destined to grow even more. There are good tales here, a couple about Frenchmen peddling aircraft, another involving the famed Soong sisters.
During China’s Revolution of 1911, its southern warlords ordered a pair of Austrian Etrich Taube monoplanes. Fat lot of good it did them: The crated aircraft failed to arrive in time to do any good (or evil).
The first aeroplane flight in China was most likely on February 21, 1911, with René Vallon and his Sommer biplane flying over Shanghai. Like other entrepreneurial aviators, he was hoping to sell the concept to dazzled onlookers.
Alas, within three months, Vallon was to be China’s first air fatality during another Shanghai demonstration. Rue Vallon was named in his honor in what was then the city’s French Concession; the street is now called Nanchang Lu.
By the way, I say “likely” 1911, though library.uoregon.edu offers 1909 in The History of Aviation in China. Another website gives Vallon’s dates as 1880–1911, along with a North-China Herald May 13, 1916, article citing his death on the previous Saturday.
In 1913, a shipment of 20 (Jane’s says 12 …) Caudron G.3s arrived from France, accompanied by no less than Gaston (or was it his brother René?) Caudron. This time, I’m going with Warnepieces, at least in part based on the photos he provides.
The Caudrons were used to train Chinese pilots at the Pukou Flight School, 185 miles west of Shanghai. By the end of World War I, the Chinese had added a number of other aircraft, including more Caudrons, 12 Voisins, a British FE-2 and Vickers Fb-5, and a French Nieuport 17 and SPAD XIII. The Caudrons continued as training craft until at least 1920.
Around 1915, the Nanyuan Gun Bus No. 1 appeared, perhaps an indigenous design, perhaps based on imported aircraft. The Gun Bus was a single-engine pusher aircraft with a crew of two, a pilot and a gunner. It might have found service in China’s civil unrest at the time.
Showing real ambition in 1919, the Chinese government ordered perhaps 100 (or maybe 40…) Vickers Vimy transports to be used to establish passenger service in China. Most remained in their shipping crates; only seven were put into use.
In 1923, the British magazine Flight reported what it termed the first successful flight of an aircraft constructed in China. This conventional biplane was designed by a German engineer, Leopold Carl Ferdinand Friedrich Schoettler. Its engine, instruments, wheels and dope for fabric covering were imported from Europe. All else was locally sourced.
Another Chinese-built biplane, the Rosamonde, appears in a photo also dated 1923. “This is the first airplane built in China,” reads the photo. “Designed May 1923. Flown July 1923. The ‘Rosamonde’ (named in honor of Mrs. Sun Yat-sen).”
Indeed, Rosamonde was the Westernized given name for Soong Ching-ling, Sun Yat-sen’s third [corrected 3/19/17] wife, sister-in-law of Chiang Kai-shek, and known as the “conscience of China.” It was said of the Soong sisters, Ai-Ling, May-ling and Ching-ling, “one loves money, one loves power and one loves China,” respectively.
Our story will continue another day with a record flight complicated by visas, an aircraft cloned from a famous 1927 one and perhaps more about the Soong sisters. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017