Wednesday, July 27, 2016

CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM - Beijing, China

Last week, I visited the China Aviation Museum, while I was on a 30hr layover in Beijing. Although I'm not a huge fan of museums that only have static (non-flying) aircraft, this one had been on my radar for a while...  Generally speaking, I much rather prefer "flying museums" like Planes of Fame and the Yanks museum in Chino, CA, which keep a number of aircraft in airworthy condition, but this one is definitively worth a visit. 


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China

The biggest obstacle so far had been finding a reasonable way to get there! Given Chinese taxi drivers do not speak any form of English, explaining where one wants to go to, can be a challenge; especially since most people from Beijing are not familiar with the place.


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China



Of all places, it was through a recent post on Tripadvisor, that I found a reasonable way to get there; hopefully without getting lost. It consisted of a one hour metro ride from the city center, followed by a 20min bus ride! First, one needs to find his way to the "SAHE" metro station on the Changping line (pink); a relative easy task. Take the B1 exit and then follow the main road to the right for about 500m. Take the 945 bus (2 yuan - no change) which has a dedicated stop close to the entrance of the museum but which is not announced in English. I suggest using an app like "CityMaps2Go"; to keep track where to get off using a off-line GPS moving map! From the bus stop, one can walk the 1.5km along the "taxiway" which connects the nearby military airbase with the museum grounds, or can take a 10 yuan "tuktuk" ride. 



CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China


On a side-note, on the way over there I could not find the place where to get on the bus and ended up hiring a tuktuk. Giving him directions through my iPhone app, he wasn't really pleased when we ended up on the highway with the three-wheeler! But we got there... On the return, it became clear that I didn't walk far enough after exiting the station at B1!


click on the map for a full size view

The museum consists of four main areas; 
  1. outside area with aircraft, missiles and artillery being displayed (free)
  2. inside museum with a lot of historic aircraft and relics (20yuan)
  3. 600m long tunnel through and adjacent mountain with aircraft parked on both sides (20yuan)
  4. aircraft graveyard (free)

1/ Outside area
On entering the museum, one immediately comes to a large open space which is covered with a large variety of aircraft. Some of the signs have some limited English translations, such as the one for this Mig-15 below.

CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China

Although I can pretty much recognise most of the Worlds military and civil aircraft, my plane spotting skills proved to be a challenge here! A lot of the aircraft are Russian (and even US) licence built and carry a specific Chinese designator.


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China

 

CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China


2/ Inside museum
Typical for most aviation museums, they often want to cramp in too many aircraft in too little space; not great for photography. Although not different, it still proved to be worth paying the 20yuan (3,-USD) admission as there was a lot of interesting stuff on display. A Xian H-6A, license built Tu-16 bomber, dominates the scene. 
CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China

CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China



Although none of the signs inside the museum are translated in English, looking at the pictures, there seems to be also a bit of Cold War propaganda going on. Such is probably the case with the display of the remains of this 1960's US Lockheed D-21 drone, which crash landed on Chinese soil! 

CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China



3/ Tunnel
Probably the weirdest place of the museum is a 600m long tunnel with an entrance at both sides. During the Cold War, it was used to keep aircraft safe, deep underground. The contrast with the hot and humid (around 30C) weather outside with the cold air inside the tunnel, was quite dramatic. 


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China

One gets to the eastern entrance, by walking between 30 or so parked fighter jets along a wide taxiway; a nice photo-opportunity!

Inside there is a large variety (estimated around 60-70) of Chinese, Russian and Western aircraft from a WWII Mark XVI Spitfire through a YAK-17 (early 1940's jet) to an Italian F-104 Starfighter. 


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China
The tunnel is extremely dark and not really suitable for photography; even shooting at ISO 6400 it remained a challenge!


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China



4/ Aircraft graveyard 

Likely the most interesting place is the graveyard to the North. It has about 20 to 30 aircraft in a different states of disrepair and given it is isolated, is not really known by most of the visitors. 
CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China


Most of the aircraft are easily accessible, such as this LI-2 (Russian built DC-3) which I climbed in. In wet weather this area does get very muddy; don't ask how I know please...


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China



A rare bird was this Nanchang Y5-C; a Chinese floatplane variant of the Russian Antonov An-2.


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China


There is also a nice collection of Russian helicopters on display, next to the graveyard.


CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China



Conclusion
Visiting the China Aviation Museum, which is the largest aviation museum of Asia, turned out to be a great photo-adventure; something I would recommend to any Aviation Geek and/or photographer! One can easily spend 4 to 5 hours browsing through the different areas and I unlike myself I would recommend staying away from visiting during the hot and humid summer months (July-August). In any case, wear comfortable walking shoes, as one will easily walk +10km, if you check out all of the 300 or so aircraft on display. 

CHINA AVIATION MUSEUM, Beijing, China


All of the published images of my trip can be found in the China Aviation Museum gallery.

Although better maintained, the museum has a lot of similarities to the Russian Air Force museum in Monino, close to Moscow. A link can be found here.

For you gear heads, all of the images were shot with the new Fujifilm X-T2; reviewed here



Happy shooting,
BJORN


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