Chinese Aircraft: China’s Aviation Industry Since 1951
by Yefim Gordon and Dmitriy Komissarov, Hikoki Productions Ltd., Manchester, UK, distributed by Specialty Press, North Branch, Minn., 2009, $56.95.
China’s aircraft industry has long been veiled in mystery, partly thanks to the secrecy maintained by its government and partially due to a Western tendency to dismiss its planes as cheap copies of foreign designs. Now, combining their expertise on Soviet designs that served as the license-built foundation of Chinese aviation with the penetration of the “Great Firewall of China,” Yefim Gordon and Dmitriy Komissarov have created a remarkable history of the industry’s development.
During the Cold War, the fledgling People’s Republic of China was spared having to build its military aviation from scratch thanks to Soviet aid, although that dependence could include periodic reminders of its junior status behind the Iron Curtain. For example, as Soviet jet bombers became standard during the 1950s, they bequeathed Tupolev Tu-4s—reverse-engineered Boeing B-29As—to China. When their original radial engines wore out during the 1970s, the Chinese installed turboprop engines in their place, thus keeping the World War II–vintage bombers flying into the 1980s.
As Sino-Soviet relations soured in the 1960s, it became inevitable that the Chinese would have to parlay their experience into designing and building their own airplanes. In what has become a worldwide practice, the genesis of China’s indigenous aircraft has often involved technical assistance from a multinational array of contracted experts, ranging from Pakistani to Israeli.
Chinese Aircraft illustrates this evolutionary process with some 650 photographs, mostly in color, 100 drawings and more than 110 color profiles. China’s rapidly growing air power— and its extensive export to Third World countries—is nothing to take lightly, and Chinese Aircraft gives the aviation enthusiast an invaluable, overdue means of getting up to speed on the subject.
Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.