06 – 24 JUL – SICHUAN REPORTS
The 12th show
This is a day by day report of the 1st China Sichuan Aerobatic Festival, our 12th event in P.R. China since 1996. It was launched in December 2000 when our friend Chen Lin, president of the Sichuan Air Club, a typical young and dynamic new red entrepreneur, invited me to Chengdu to discuss this idea. We are now at the conclusion of 6 months of talks and negotiations, everything has been detailed and finalised on paper, it is time for us to make the show.
We have been invited here as FAI World Grand Prix pilots, as members of the Olympic Movement, to develop the image of airsports in China but also to offer a spectacular operation to the Sichuan people who wanted to express their support to the Olympic bid of the city of Beijing for the Games 2008.
The winner will be decided on 13th July, first day of the show, between Beijing, Paris, Ottawa, Osaka and Istanbul... Needless to say that all the people of China would be very deeply disappointed if Beijing is not selected.
06 July – Typhoon in Hong Kong
Welcome to Hong Kong! said the air hostess under a round of applause after we landed safely through typhoon Tutor. It was just after it was downgraded from Typhoon warning class 8 (people have to stay home and do not go to work).
Everyone was relieved and in their mind all passengers thanked the Captain and his crew for their professionalism. After a 12-hour flight from Zürich we may have been one hour late but everybody said "Well done Captain!"...
Of course, to be an airline pilot is no longer spectacular everyday but when you have to fight against the unfriendly elements of nature and take your passengers safely to the destination, that's when you reach the magnificence of that kind of passion, more than a job, Captain of a flying boat. Gratitude and congratulations from happy passengers!
07 July – Arrival in Shenzhen
The typhoon has now left Hong Kong and we take the one-hour Hovercraft to Shenzhen where we are welcomed by Garland, a member of the hosting team and a friend we met for the first time in 1996 during the first airshow ever held in China. Since then we have returned to China every year and we have already performed 11 displays and competitions organised in different provinces.
At the hotel we meet our four Russian technicians who had arrived a day earlier and had to spend the night at the airport because they speak only Russian and do not understand Chinese and the staff at the hotel front desk spoke only Chinese and could not understand Russian... They couldn't event communicate with the special language we usually speak between us which is based on English with a sprinkling of words from many countries and with body language and hand signals supposed to make things as clear as possible...
Also arriving in Shenzhen is Eric the American technician of the Edge and my assistants, Lynda (Australian) and Vanessa (French/British living in Greece). We definitely need some women in this field that is predominently male.
Hurricane in Germany
Jurgis Kairys and the two Lithuanian technicians call from Frankfurt, to inform us that their flight has been cancelled due to a back up of delayed aircraft bound for Hong Kong. It is interesting how a gust of wind in Asia can create in Germany the same effect as a hurricane!
However this delay is not yet an issue as the aircraft have just been released by customs and the containers are not scheduled to arrive Shenzhen Airport before 8th July.
Our sports aircraft should then have been loaded into two IL76 cargo aricraft but we are being informed that the organiser finally signed a contract for three return flights of a smaller Y-8 (AN12 in Russia), thanks to the support of the People's Liberation Army.
However, God knows how we will manage to be in time...
This was the beginning of the bad news when Garland announced that our friend Chen Lin had passed away on 2nd July in a car crash. He was sleeping at the back of the car when a tyre exploded on the motorway. The driver and the passenger were not injured but Chen Lin was ejected from the car.
I was sincerely shocked by this sad news. Chen was the chief of the event, its soul, its driving force, and he was so happy to organise this event in his home province, an airshow for the first time in western China, his dream...
I was thinking of his wife, his young team, his company, his brilliant future and the big project he had for sports aviation in Sichuan. Obviously, further to so many unscheduled elements happening in just a few days, I could feel that this event had a destiny before it even started.
For sure, we had to play more than our part to make it a big success, but I was then definitely attracted by the unknown consequences of this operation.
We normally experience the difference between a perfect organisation on paper and the reality on site, nothing strange to that. Especially when two different cultures have not the same conception of timing and anticipation, and there is absolutely nobody to blame for that.
We spent several hours waiting for the containers to arrive from Hong Kong and for the Y-8 to land, so we started work at 2p.m. only.
Of course, the first aircraft to be delivered were the ones belonging to the technicians grounded in Frankfurt but we finally made it and, at 7 p.m., one Edge and two SU26 were loaded in the Y-8.
Unfortunately we were informed that it was not possible for the crew to take off that late and to fly at night, therefore departure of the cargo had to be scheduled for the following morning. Meanwhile, the organiser tried to send our technicians to Chengdu via commercial airline (so they could unload the Y-8 on arrival) but each time he did not make the reservations in advance and tickets were sold out when he arrived at the counter. However, he guaranteed that reservations were confirmed for the following morning at 10:15 am.
That evening when everyone returned to the hotel we got a surprise to see a news report on all the Chinese TV channels about our friend Peter Besenyei flying under the oldest and most historical bridge, opposite the House of Parliament in his capital city of Budapest.
I am wondering if it could be in competition to who made his specialty of flying under bridges in Lithuania (see photos on this website)! ...
Please be aware that all these special flights have been seriously practised and they are performed in the most official way, with all reglementary approvals from all authorities concerned.
Peter is very famous in China since he won the 1998 China Cup Tour of the FAI World Grand Prix (8 cities in two months), and he was the first pilot to fly through Tianmen Cave at Zhang Jia Jie, during one of our events organised in 1999. No doubt you will see a few pictures of his Hungarian bridge flight, at least on this website after our return home.
Bright blue sky. The military Y-8 took off at 7:30 am, but our three technicians could not fly via commercial airline to Chengdu because the person in charge of the reservation at the airport had made a mistake. Therefore, the three technicians will not take off until 7 p.m. and the Y-8 will have to wait for being unloaded.
No Y-8 today but we will have two flights tomorrow, thanks to the PLA.
At 2pm Jurgis Kairys and two Lithuanian technicians arrive at Shenzhen, a little bit exhausted after a long trip.
Part of the group unstuffed the containers and stored the remaining aircraft (one SU31, two SU26 and one Yak55) in a hangar, in readiness for the arrival of the Y-8 on July 10th...
Another part of the group visited Shenzhen and its China Folk Culture Villages.
Our three technicians arrived safely in Chengdu, they will unload the Y-8 tomorrow morning and transport the Edge and two SU26 by truck to Guanghan. This was not really scheduled and I am glad the road is a highway in good condition because the aircraft are no longer packed for that kind of transportation.
Finally, only one Y-8 will be provided today... The last two aircraft will have to be air freighted on July 11th, therefore time is getting very short for reassembling all aircraft before the show.
I now have to depart for Chengdu.
Great flight to Chengdu in an Airbus A320 of China Southern Airlines, superb hostesses...
Very warm welcome from the organisers, press interviews, we are hosted for the night at the Jinjiang Hotel*****, the best hotel in Western China. We met there Kirby Chambliss, our US champion who just arrived.
On the technical side, we are definitely not ahead of schedule, although a second Y-8 from China Postal Airlines has been rented and landed in Shenzhen late afternoon!
By 8pm all 4 remaining aircraft have been loaded into the two Y-8 and technicians flew to Chengdu for unloading.
Only the Y-8 from China Postal Airlines flew this evening and by the time we transferred all pieces from the aircraft onto trucks, we finished unloading at 2:00 am. So much handling but a great job from the group of technicians and Jurgis who, in addition to being a brilliant pilot, is a very efficient certified mechanics!
The other Y-8 is supposed to take off from Chengdu in the morning...
The delays are becoming a nightmare, the last aircraft were unloaded at Guanghan at 10pm... We have only one day left to reassemble all aircraft.
All pilots have arrived and went to bed, it will be a hard day tomorrow...
Misty in the morning, less than 3km visibility until 11 am, then great blue sky...
At the end of the day, all aircraft but one were reassembled and checked in flight.
That was certainly a hard day but how could we miss the goal with such a team of mechanics and pilots? What is interesting in our group is that several pilots are also patented technicians, and that helps a lot when you are running out of time.
By the way, temperature was about 33°C and humidity 82%, it was hot, like the Sichuan food... And very warm also were all the people asking for autographs and photos.
Tomorrow, first day of the show and we'll know the decision of IOC regarding the Beijing 2008 Olympic Bid.
First day of the Festival, as usual things started with an official ceremony and speeches.
Blue sky above the mist!
About 2km visibility below 3'000 feet, it was not so easy for the audience on-site to see the aircraft and those watching the live TV broadcast on CCTV-5 (the sports channel in China) were not any luckier as the pictures were very hazy.
But isn't it normal for an airshow held on a humid summer morning at 32-34°C?
Every day the show will start at 09:30 and stop at 12.
The programme consists of air models, parachuting, powered parachuting, the Blue Dream team (3-ship formation with CJ-6), another group of 3xCJ-6 for simulated bombing with pyros, our 7 aircraft to fly twice each day (five solos, a formation team of two, and an act with six aircraft), and a group of TB20 and Piper Cheyenne of the Aviation school based in Guanghan.
This Flight College is quite a big one and apparently unique in China for airline pilots.
Our technicians tried to reassemble the Yak55 in the middle of a very nice crowd but not very well controlled. Therefore, it took them a couple of hours more but it was finally ready to fly by the end of the afternoon.
Since the application to fly was not made yesterday, it will now be tested before the show tomorrow morning.
Congratulations to Beijing which has just been elected as the 2008 Olympic city. The Chinese people are very happy and programmes on Chinese CCTV are quite enthusiastic! Everyone has a flag of China in their hands, even the pop singers singing their hits, and fundraising has already started.
Unfortunately the same weather conditions, very hot and very hazy, less than two kilometers visibility until 12:30pm.
It is difficult to fly in that "bottle of milk" without any horizon but we could not ignore such enthusiastic spectators who were watching their first airshow and would have not understood why we could not fly.
We managed to postpone the flights by one hour and our pilots could finally take off and fly in more reasonabe conditions.
The Yak 55.
First to fly was the Yak 55, flown by Jurgis Kairys in a royal way, with grace and majesty.
Further to the will expressed by a few Chinese organisers, we had bought this aircraft as an assistance to the development of Aerobatics in China. It was obvious to us that, without Chinese pilots flying appropriate types of aircraft, aerobatic competition in China could not be developed. And everyone knowing that airshows are not enough to attract sponsors will understand that modern sports is more than a simple hobby.
Unfortunately, there seemed to be too many obstacles for this aircraft to be imported and promoted in China. Therefore, our partners did not make the decision to buy the Yak55 and we will have a good chance to return it back home.
Autographs, photos, interviews, that was the game for all our group all along the day and, in the evening we were invited to a party to celebrate the success of the Beijing Olympic bid... An excuse that could last for a couple of days, if not weeks! Chinese people are really happy, and as part of the Olympic family we believe it is good to see them like that.
2001 also celebrates the 80th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party (born in 1921), so it is a new opportunity to strengthen the national pride.
The weather today was better, the visibility was still not perfect (around 5 km) but at least the temperature dropped a little bit, thanks to a big storm in the morning.
Today's show was also a big success for all pilots who produced top level perfomances to the delight of the crowd which did not stop cheering and clapping. A great public audience!
In the afternoon we all went to visit the Sanxingdui Museum, the jewel of Guanghan/Sichuan. Indeed it is near Guanghan that the Shu dynasty is said to have reigned 4,000 years ago and the Museum enlights you with the wonderful discoveries and the unsolved mysteries attached to this rich and only recently known civilisation...
The Chen Lin bridge
Close to Sanxingdui Museum there is a bridge that Chen Lin wanted us to fly under. Since he passed away the project has been cancelled and replaced by a flight under a model of the bridge, erected at the airport.
Tomorrow is the last day of the show which will also be broadcast live by the CCTV channels 1 (news) and 5 (sports), especially for the "C" flight (half a loop) under the bridge ... After the bridge (12m high) stands another bridge (6m high), only 75m away.
It is under a very hot sun and a very much improved visibility that today's highlight -the flights under the bridge- took place.
Flights under the bridge
We call it Chen Lin bridge because it was his idea.
The first to fly under the bridge were Chinese pilots, followed then by Kirby Chambliss, Viktor Tchmal, Svetlana Kapanina (finishing with her trade-mark roll!), Jurgis Kairys, the Sukhoi Duo (simulataneously!) and Peter Besenyei.
The performances were broadcast live by the national TV channels, CCTC1 and CCTV5 from 10 to 12 am.
The airfield was absolutely packed,and the crowd was nothing but delighted making the atmosphere completely ecstatic! It is true that a minimum altitude set at ground level is very popular, but we are quite happy to have a group composed of such great professional pilots.
Today was already the last day of the show which was concluded with the usual closing ceremony. The pilots were officially saluted one by one under the loud cheering of the crowd.
Many thanks to the Sichuan Air Club and Chen Lin's company, the Provincial authorities and the Government of Guanghan.
We said good bye this afternoon to the Sukhoi Duo who made their way home and most of the pilots will follow tomorrow. The technicians however will stay here a little bit longer to disassemble the aircraft and get them ready to be shipped to Japan.
However, disassembly and return transportation to Shenzhen were not yet made, they were still part of a new experience to come...
So this is where this chapter ends, thank you all for following us, we hope you enjoyed it!
Next event: FAI World Grand Prix N°016 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan, for the third time in a row, 02-04 November 2001.
The Sukhoi Duo left right after the show on 16th, Airlines Captains always have a very tight schedule.
It was the day after the event, all seven aircraft had been disassembled and packed within 12 hours, ready to be put on trucks bound for Chengdu airport.
Unfortunately, there were no trucks available...
Departure of Svetlana, Viktor, Peter and Kirby.
Funeral of Chen Lin...
Are you superstitious? As a matter of fact, it was our 13th event in China but I did not want to mention it earlier because Chen Lin had decided to postpone the show by one week to start Friday 13th July (day of the IOC decision regarding Beijing 2008)... Good luck or bad luck? I was myself born on a Friday 13th, let's say that it was good luck for me, maybe not for all others!
Chen Lin's company did not survive to his death and the financial support of the airshow organisers disappeared.
This is maybe why, despite a written contract where all points had been clarified, nothing seemed to have been scheduled for the return of our aircraft. Logistics became a crucial issue, 1600km away from the return boat...
We had to organise ourselves to return all aircraft back to Hong Kong and I must confess it would have been impossible without the support of the Aero Sports Federation of China, the Communist Party, the City Government of Guanghan, the PLA and a few helpful people like the Jin Tai Hotel. Therefore, we are quite happy to express here our deepest gratitude for their assistance.
At 6:00 am a bus took us to Guanghan airport to load the aircraft on the trucks (a total of nine trucks for 7 aircraft, this info for those who would like to do the same).
Everything was fine in theory, we had been allocated three flights by one military Y-8 (Chinese Antonov 12), one flight on 19th July and two flights on 20th July.
Unfortunately, the weather in Shenzhen area was not perfect and the first departure of the Y-8 from Chengdu was postponed to the following morning (20/7).
Four technicians stayed with me at Guanghan for the loading operations while four technicians were sent with Lynda to Shenzhen to unload the Y-8 cargo upon its arrival.
The Y-8 took off from Chengdu at 8 a.m.
Trucks were late in Guanghan, we could start loading at 10 am only and reached Chengdu at about 4pm with all remaining aircraft loaded on six trucks. It was far too late to consider a second flight and I was not convinced that the crew of the Y-8 was really keen on flying 8 to 10 hours a day.
We loaded the Y-8 with 3 complete aircraft, it should take off on 21st July.
Only one aircraft was left on the parking at Chengdu airport, waiting for the third Y-8.
We will be definitely too late, all return air tickets will have to be changed. It's not good news for our finances and working schedules but it's not so bad for the adventure.
I think that Chinese people have a secret to remain relax. Maybe we should try the Chinese massages...
Rain in Shenzhen. The second Y-8 will not take off early from Chengdu... We are getting very, very late and all aircraft out of Hong Kong are fully booked, it's a holiday season.
Since I had a little bit of time ahead of me, I decided to continue this report and to put the first part on line before the end of the game... The conclusion will be made later, hopefully in a couple of days... Who knows?
The last aircraft landed at lunch time and was stuffed in the afternoon, just in time for Kairys and his two technicians to get the ferry to Hong Kong and their airline to Lithuania. All other people departed on 23rd July.
Everyone returned home safely and aircraft are in their containers waiting for their vessels.
This was a very interesting event and a great experience in difficult conditions. However, all the Chinese people we met in Sichuan were so nice (and the food so good!) that we finally loved this kind of adventure, but we would not do that every day!
Logistically, there were too muchhandling from boat to trucks then to air cargo and to trucks again, double handling was very common and not necessary. This was exhausting for the technicians, especially when plans always changed at the last minute and such a process for transportation is not recommended in the future.
Either airfreight from homebase to the event site, or vessel and trucks with aircraft into containers, provided the road surfaces are good.
Regarding the development of sport aerobatics in China, things will be difficult if there are no Chinese pilots involved in international competitions.
It is certainly not a question of skills as there is no reason why Chinese pilots, with the appropriate training and aircraft, would not be competitive.
But, which aircraft? At this point, they have no aerobatic aircraft even for advanced level. Therefore, it is a matter of political will, the same will that brought Russian aerobatic pilots to the top worldwide. It is not so much a question of finance, we cannot say that Russian aerobatic pilots are wealthy people!
So, at this point, we could conclude by saying that the test in Sichuan was positive for future airshows or Aerobatic Festivals, but a few logistical issues should be solved before hosting an FAI World Grand Prix competition that would be fair to each competitor. However, let's keep in mind the fact that the boss passed away just a few days before the event, this created a very difficult situation which is fortunately not so common.
Another conclusion is to state that the role of a national Aero Sports Federation is maybe more to settle and strengthen a structure to develop airsports competitions rather than becoming a basic airshow producer.
But, as you know, nothing is very clear in China, and I understood it was useless to make any judgement. Things are always moving at the last minute, just to make your latest statement wrong and stupid...
At least, just go and visit China, Sichuan and Sanxingdui, you will not regret it. But go before the 2008 Olympic Games, China is changing every day!
20 AUG – 2001 AEROBATICS JAPAN GRAND PRIX
The next leg of the FAI World Grand Prix will be held at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan, from 2nd to 4th November 2001.
Spectacular novelties will be displayed during the Haute Voltige performances in regards to flights to music (Air Ballets) and Air Theatre (more details to come...).
25 AUG – JILIN… A CHALLENGE WORTHY OF THE GUINESS BOOK OF RECORDS!
Waiting for the next FAI World Grand Prix...
How to have at least 7 aircraft fly at the same time under an arch of the same bridge, knowing that the bridge is 8m high, the wingspan of each aircraft is 8m, and the distance between two arch pillars is 30m?
Considering not to have the same number of aircraft in flight before and after the bridge is not an option...
Solution on 6th October at Jilin! The event will be broadcast live by CCTV1, the main national TV channel in China.
The city and the people of Jilin, in the North East of China, will invite you to attend the performances of Haute Voltige pilots from 3 to 6 October.
Enthusiasts who enjoy witnessing spectacular Guinness records will certainly admire the following internationally renowned pilots:
Peter BESENYEI (HUN)
Svetlana KAPANINA (RUS)
Viktor TCHMAL (RUS)
Mikhail MAMISTOV (RUS)
Kirby CHAMBLISS (USA)
SPACE KNIGHTS (FRA) Réal WEBER, Michel COSTE, Alain AMIOT
SUKHOI DUO (GBR) Paul BONHOMME, Steve JONES
Meanwhile, in Japan, Jurgis KAIRYS, a great specialist of flights under bridges, will display another brilliant Haute Voltige performance during the Moto Pacific Grand Prix to be held at Twin Ring Motegi on 7th October.
15 SEP – JILIN… NOT 7 AIRCRAFT BUT 10!
Of course it is not an FAI competition and, of course all aircraft will not fly under the same arch. Since the bridge is made of 13 arches, each aircraft will fly under its own arch... However, the game will not be so simple!
Spectators should be able to see a formation group of ten aircraft flying together under the bridge.