U.S. De­but at Chi­nese Air­show

Sound­ings

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Soundings - MICHELE TRAVIERSO

AT FIRST LOOK, the 2014 Zhuhai Air­show—op­er­at­ing bi­en­ni­ally since 1996, it’s China’s an­swer to France’s Le Bour­get and the U.K.’S Farn­bor­ough— ap­peared pretty much the same as it had the past few years. The poor vis­i­bil­ity. The huge crowds. The lack of de­cent food joints. But once vis­i­tors got to the air­craft dis­play, they found them­selves look­ing into the mas­sive face of one the largest U.S. mil­i­tary air­planes, the Boe­ing C-17 Globe­mas­ter.

Although two C-17s had pre­vi­ously vis­ited China’s Sichuan prov­ince—to de­liver hu­man­i­tar­ian aid af­ter the May 2008 earth­quake—this was the first time the U.S. Air Force had been in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in an air­show in China, says Cap­tain Rush Tay­lor, com­man­der of the C-17 crew, part of the 535th Air­lift Squadron, which op­er­ates out of Joint Base Pearl Har­bor–hickam in Hawaii. Ac­cord­ing to Cap­tain Su­san Har­ring­ton, Hickam’s deputy chief of op­er­a­tions, the air­craft was cho­sen to pro­vide “an op­por­tu­nity for the pub­lic to in­ter­act with our am­bas­sador Air­men and to see in per­son the C-17 that de­liv­ered life-sav­ing aid to their coun­try six years ago.”

Near the U.S. air­plane was the sim­i­lar but slightly smaller Chi­nese ver­sion, the Xian Y20. Next to the two mod­ern trans­ports sat the previous fly­ing mule of the Chi­nese mil­i­tary, the Rus­sian Ilyushin Il-76.

All the air­planes were cor­doned off from the pub­lic (un­like at the Sin­ga­pore Air­show in Fe­bru­ary 2014, where another C-17 per­formed a daily flight rou­tine and its whale-like belly was avail­able for a walk in­side), but the crowd showed great en­thu­si­asm for see­ing the trans­port air­craft up close.

It took a while to get Tay­lor’s at­ten­tion to ask him about the ex­pe­ri­ence. He and the other 17 crew mem­bers “felt as if we took pic­tures with vir­tu­ally ev­ery per­son that at­tended, and the peo­ple we talked to were very sup­port­ive of us be­ing there and happy to meet us.” In that grass­roots way, at least, the trip was a suc­cess. Whether it went fur­ther in its goal of fos­ter­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween China and the United States re­mains un­clear. At least, says Tay­lor, “I think the U.S. Air Force will try to at­tend the air­show again.”

This year’s show was no­table for another rea­son: China’s first stealth jet, the J-31, made its first pub­lic ap­pear­ance.

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