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Taking to the Skies
China's first homegrown large passenger plane, the C919, makes its successful maiden flight
By Lan Xinzhen | NO. 20 MAY 18, 2017

China's first homegrown large passenger plane, the C919, made its successful maiden flight on May 5. China has now become the third country in the world capable of designing and manufacturing large and medium-sized commercial airplanes. The Chinese aviation industry is entering a new era, poised to carve out a niche in the international aviation market.

Enabling China's indigenously developed airplane to take to the skies is a major strategic move to improve the country's innovative ability and core national competitiveness. Technology is key to making a large passenger jet. China has not only grasped such technology, some of its innovations are world leading.

Take the C919's supercritical wing for instance. This cutting-edge design can enhance the aerodynamic efficiency of airplanes by over 20 percent, thereby increasing their cruise speed by nearly 100 km per hour.

Large passenger jet creation requires a combination of modern technologies. The development and manufacturing of the C919 has led to major technological breakthroughs in areas such as new materials, electronic information, automatic control and computer science, and promoted progress in basic sciences such as hydromechanics, solid mechanics, computational mathematics, thermal physics, chemistry, information science and environmental science.

Profound industrial capacity and a solid economic foundation are the cornerstones for making large passenger jets. In addition to raw materials provided by China's steel and aluminum industries, the country's complete industrial chain and well-functioning financial sector have paved the way for the success of the C919 project.

China's huge aviation market has injected a strong impetus into the development of large passenger planes. According to statistics from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the Chinese made 0.32 plane trips per person per year by the end of 2015, increasing 167 percent over 10 years previous. By 2030, global demand for 160-seat single-aisle passenger airplanes, a category that the C919 falls into, is expected to reach 14,500 orders, 2,650 of which will be from China. At present, the C919 has received 570 orders from 23 customers worldwide.

Developing large passenger planes puts a country's industrial, technological as well as overall competence to the test. Compared with developed countries in Europe and the U.S., China has started from scratch and lacks experience and scientific data. However, it has independently designed an airplane in less than 10 years since the project was put forward.

Therefore, the C919 not only represents the success of a single plane, it is a testament to China's innovative ability. In the future, China's commercial passenger jets will join the ranks of Boeing and Airbus to serve the global aviation market.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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