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  Home >> GNC News >> 20170315
 
 The amazing flying machines of chinese farmers
2017-03-15

 

The mission is planned for late 2018, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, adding that the tourists "have already paid a significant deposit". "This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years," he said.

 

“All over the countryside in China, in the most unexpected places, farmers are striving to build their own aircraft. They don’t work in fancy hangars with all the equipment one could wish for, they simply play around in their backyards, recycling scrap metal and using household tools. They are self-educated, self-employed and penniless.” In the foreword of the photobook Aeronautics in the Backyard, Dutch artist Gover Meit describes the people tinkering with machines in pictures taken by photographer Xiaoxiao Xu. “They proudly call themselves ‘aeronauts’.’”

   In 2015, Xu travelled across China, seeking out those aeronauts. She had read about them in a Dutch magazine, and was inspired to find out more. “I was deeply touched by the playfulness, inventiveness, flexibility and optimism of the aeronauts… and fascinated by the magical and fairytale qualities of the subject,” Xu tells BBC Culture. “Fascinated by the rich imagination of these people and their romantic pursuit in contrast to their poor existence. I wanted to know how they deal with the conflict between their dazzling imagination and their reality; what motivates them to continue; where does their persistence come from and where do their dreams lead them?”

One of the aeronauts Xu photographed, Zhang Dousan, was born into a poor family in Chaozhou, Guangdong Province, and started working as a rock-breaker at the age of 13. Seeing planes on TV inspired him to build his own: according to Xu, “all his friends burst into laughter when they heard his crazy dream, and his wife was always concerned that his test flights would fail”. Despite not finishing primary school, Zhang studied the planes at a local airport and travelled to Beijing to buy parts at the aircraft factory.

He retrieved an engine from the wreckage of a light aircraft destroyed in a typhoon, and in 1998, the first plane he built flew continuously for 500km. It was a light two-seater aircraft with a 6m-long frame, and Zhang wrote “I’m from Chaozhou. No striving, no win!” on the aerofoil. He has built four more aircraft since, including one named Holy Eagle: its aeromotor is a converted car engine, and its control panel was taken from an abandoned plane. His plan is to design a helicopter that can fly through forests and valleys to reach more people in rescue efforts. Zhang told Xu: “I love creating. I wouldn’t build an aircraft that already exists; I want to create my own designs and inventions.”

 

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