The Father of Chinese Aviation

Feng Ru made history on the California coast, then introduced airplanes to his native land.

Feng and assistants with the Feng Ru 2 in Guangdong, China (Courtesy Renee Lym Robertson)

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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.

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