The Father of Chinese Aviation
Feng Ru made history on the California coast, then introduced airplanes to his native land.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, August 13, 2008
Courtesy Renee Lym Robertson
(Page 2 of 2)
So anxious was Feng to keep his invention secret that he had the engine castings made by different East Coast machine shops, then assembled the parts himself. His discretion paid off; Feng’s successful test flights were covered by mainstream press, and his work was praised by revolutionary Sun Yat-sen. By 1911, as the New York Times reported on February 21: “[Feng] will leave here for his native land to-morrow, taking with him a biplane of the Curtiss type, in which he intends to make exhibition flights. It is believed that he will be the first aviator to rise from the ground in China…. The machine he is taking to China is of his own construction. The aviator is financed by six of his countrymen, residents of Oakland, who will accompany him on the trip. The first flights will be tried at Hongkong and Canton.”
Feng was leaving just in time: anti-Chinese sentiment was on the rise in the American West, and the Oregonian reported of the pilot’s latest flight: “Immigration officials and customs inspectors are today said to be gnashing their teeth. They find it hard enough to keep the Chinese out now, without having them dropping in on flying machines.”
When Feng arrived in Hong Kong on March 21, 1911, by custom he should have headed immediately toward his ancestral village to pay his respects. But even with his family urging him to come home, the preoccupied inventor was so obsessed with his airplane that it took him two months to fulfill his duties.
On August 26, 1912, Feng was killed while performing an aerial exhibition before a crowd of 1,000 spectators. “He was performing in a plane of his own design and manufacture,” says Gully. “He was flying at about 120 feet and had traveled about five miles before the accident. I’ve read a report that he put his machine into an extreme climb, but his engine seemed to fail and the aircraft fell to the ground. It sounds like a classic stall, but of course no one knew about such things in those days. His aircraft smashed into a bamboo grove, and his injuries included a pierced lung. As he lay dying, he reportedly told his assistants, ‘Your faith in the progress of your cause is by no means to be affected by my death.’”
The Republic of China gave Feng Ru a full military funeral, awarding him the posthumous rank of a major general. At Sun Yat-Sen’s request, the words “Chinese Aviation Pioneer” were engraved upon Feng’s tombstone.