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China's DIY Aviators Take Flight 113

Posted by samzenpus
from the Icarus-lee dept.
ScuttleMonkey writes "China’s emerging aviator class is spreading its wings with a plethora of approaches, from the ramshackle to the sophisticated to the potentially revolutionary. They’re using everything imaginable, from old motorcycle engines to electric motors to even their own legs, like Mao Yiqing and his human-powered airplane. You could easily plot these adventurous innovators on a graph, with the X axis showing their skill and the Y axis their financial means."
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China's DIY Aviators Take Flight

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  • Got nuthin (Score:4, Funny)

    by paiute (550198) on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @09:01AM (#30581172)

    The problem with Chinese experimental homebuilt aircraft is, a half hour after you test fly it, you....

  • How is this news? People make homebrew/budget planes and what-not all the time. Remember those idiots with their weather balloon? Does X-Prize mean anything to you?

    Coming up next - man grows his OWN food!!1!

    • I see this more as 'Some people in China living comfortably enough to focus on things that may or may not pay off.' It might just be for fun but it's flexing the brain. Intellectual curiosity, you know?

  • by JamesP (688957) on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @09:26AM (#30581302)

    Time airborn I assume...

    • by hey! (33014)

      That's not a bad way of looking at it. So we imagine that there's a smooth surface in three dimensions; each of these guys dreams of escaping that surface.

    • No, the depth of the impact crater

  • I've got to concentrate ... concentrate ... concentrate ...
    I've got to concentrate ... concentrate ... concentrate ...
    Hello ... hello ... hello ...
    echo ... echo ... echo ...
    Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon, Manny Mota ... Mota .. Mota ...

    • You ever see a grown man naked?

      • Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
        Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
        Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.
        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          Well, I'm glad you two figured out what I was doing, even if one of the mods didn't.

          • I thought it was quite obvious. Mods need a sense of humour implant.
            Controller: I know but this guy has no flying experience at all. He's a menace to himself and everything else in the air... yes, birds too.

            Note: Humour spelled correctly in houour of the Great Leslie Nielsen.
  • Escaping! (Score:4, Funny)

    by p51d007 (656414) on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @09:44AM (#30581440)
    Some people will do just about ANYTHING to escape a communist dictatorship.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thelasko (1196535)

      Some people will do just about ANYTHING to escape a communist dictatorship.

      I don't know... that one guy did create a people [wikipedia.org] powered plane.

    • China isn't the only place with this kind of thing going on. In the UK, for example, you don't need a certificate of airworthiness for very light aircraft and you can fly them with just a microlight license (which is comparatively cheap to get - you can do it in 25 hours).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @09:48AM (#30581460)
    When W was busy claiming that the west would move to an economy of IP, rather than actual manufacturing, he missed that the 2 work hand in hand. Basically, you need to be able to see how things are done to do the derivative work. Basically, America MUST bring back manufacturing to be able to grow again. America is becoming more and more like Russia; a has-been. Both because they have moved to depending on few incomes.

    In the mean time, good luck to these ppl. Hopefully, one day, they will be free to actually enjoy their labor.
    • by vrmlguy (120854) <samwyse@nOsPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @10:21AM (#30581708) Homepage Journal

      Mod parent up! I've resisted the idea, but between this and China overtaking the U.S. as the world's biggest market for automobiles [google.com], I'm about convinced that America is not only in decline but is well down the slope. OTOH, it's still way better than Russia (I've been there) which is only barely surviving thanks to its vast resources being able to overcome frightening inefficiencies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by smellsofbikes (890263)
      Dude. Nobody is missing anything. W and the other people who run businesses -- on all ends of the political spectrum -- know very well that outsourcing manufacturing is a bad idea for the country as a whole, but it's a good idea for *them* personally because it increases their profit margin. So they do it. Everyone ELSE knows very well that outsourcing manufacturing is a bad idea for the country as a whole and for them personally, but they can't do anything about it because they're not running companies
      • by Richy_T (111409)

        The people outsourcing the companies are doing it because government meddling and taxes have made it too expensive to run any kind of competitive business here. And we're just about to get another dose of that.

        • by kaiser423 (828989)
          Really? Are you sure? If we strip away all regulations, the cost of business here would still be much higher than in China, because their standard of living is just lower. Period. There's nothing that we can do about them having billions of dirt-poor people that they can train to manufacture items, and pay next to nothing. They have a virtual slave class, and an American worker isn't going to be cost-competitive with that until all 1 billion people are pulled out of the poverty well.
          • by Richy_T (111409)

            It's a sliding scale of course. But the US doesn't have to match Chinese wages, just come close enough that it doesn't make financial sense to take things abroad. Tax the companies, tax the raw materials, tax the profits, tax the income, force them to buy goods and services through regulation then tax that too, tax the workers, tax their healthcare, tax their food, tax their transport, tax where they live, tax their taxes... The surprising thing is that anyone can afford to keep *any* business in the US.

            • by Richy_T (111409)

              Minor update to remove some ambiguity)

              It's a sliding scale of course. But the US doesn't have to match Chinese wages, just come close enough that it doesn't make financial sense to take things abroad. Whe way it works in the US now is: Tax the companies, tax the raw materials, tax the profits, tax the income, force them to buy goods and services through regulation then tax that too, tax the workers, tax their healthcare, tax their food, tax their transport, tax where they live, tax their taxes... The surpri

          • by juan2074 (312848)
            Look at worker productivity, not just labour cost for each unit of time.

            It is not so easy to compare Chinese manufacturing to US manufacturing, because there are not too many things produced in both countries in the same way.
        • by sjames (1099)

          Nonsense. They just want to get around the natural cost of not being able to trade the health and lives of their workers and the wellbeing of their country for personal wealth.

          If they manufacture here in the U.S. they might (god forbid) have to not put poison in the baby formula and toothpaste, avoid lead and GHB in the kid's toys, and god knows what other horrors.

    • by elkto (558121)
      George W. was clearly wrong in what he said at that time.
      I agree with your statement about manufacturing, but Clinton's trade agreements destroyed any capability of the US to gain it back.

      The article takes me back to the mindset here in the US in the late 60's early 70's. Fun times!
  • by yabos (719499) on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @10:16AM (#30581668)
    Cessna is now outsourcing manufacturing of the new SkyCatcher 162 to China. I wonder how long until a lot of the design is copied by the Chinese into the homebuilt market. We all know how they rapidly produce knockoff products of just about everything. Cessna is reportedly saving about $77,000 USD by manufacturing in China yet the SkyCatcher still costs >$100,000 USD to buy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by GooberToo (74388)

      Cessna is reportedly saving about $77,000 USD by manufacturing in China yet the SkyCatcher still costs >$100,000 USD to buy.

      Half of every dollar spent on aviation in the US goes to cover liability. Also, Cessna, by far, has the largest markup of any of the light piston US manufacturers. From what I've read, the plane is targeting $111,000. If liability laws were brought into sane reason, that same aircraft could likely be had for something like $50,000. Yet one more reason to drown all the attorneys tomorrow. And if the FAA were revamped such that it more readily allowed free market competition, that price could likely be in the

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        we suffer a higher death and injury rate as a direct result.

        I wanted to clarify something here. That was meant to be taken in relative terms rather than an absolute. In absolute terms the death and injury rate is actually pretty low; with the most dangerous segment being on par with motorcycles. In relative terms to what it could be, its far higher than what is otherwise technically obtainable.

      • You say that as if you need no facts to back it up. Looking around, the best estimates I could find were 3 to 5 percent of the cost of a plane are litigation and litigation-prevention costs. There's also a fairly significant amount for insurance, some of which goes to paying for litigation, but all totaled it still seems to be less than either of the two largest costs, parts and labor.

        So, please stop pulling numbers out of your ass.

        • The problem is that those numbers are devilishly difficult to calculate. It's easy enough to calculate the *direct* costs of litigation, but that is only telling part of the story. How many companies have pulled out of the aviation/avionics market because they don't want to take on the liability of building airplane parts? I can tell you story after story of parts manufacturers and service shops who refuse to produce or work on airplane parts because they are afraid of the potential liability. Econ 101
        • by GooberToo (74388)

          Its a well documented fact that liability in aviation consumes .50 on every aviation dollar.

          Stop putting your head up your ass.

        • by sjames (1099)

          How thorough were those numbers? The correct numbers need to consider each level of the process and the excess insurance costs as well. Each part manufacturer will carry extra liability insurance (that costs more) and will tack that on to the price of their parts. Each producer of sub-assemblys will buy those more expensive parts and tack on their excess insurance costs. That happens all the way up the chain.

      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        It is really a shame what planes cost. As a private pilot stuck renting for the foreseeable future, I've tried to figure out all different ways to afford a plane and just haven't been able to work it into the budget. Even decent used planes go for at least $15k - usually $25k or more.

        The new SLSA rules (well, they've been around long enough now that it's hard to call them "new" anymore) have allowed for some interesting new manufacturers to spring up, but the prices are still pretty high. Best price I've

        • It depends a lot on what you class as a plane. Fixed-wing three-axis microlights can be quite cheap and get very good fuel economy (and some have better specifications than the planes I learned to fly in, although they tend to be in the $40K region new). You might consider renting out a plane to other people - at least you can probably cover hangar charges and maintenance by letting other people fly it when you're not, and maybe pay off some of the capital too.
      • by wjsteele (255130)

        "And if the FAA were revamped such that it more readily allowed free market competition, that price could likely be in the $30k range while at the same time making aviation safer for everyone;"

        Can you clarify that statement? What can the FAA do to allow more free market competition? In fact, the Cessna SkyCrasher isn't an FAA Certified aircraft at all. It's a light sport aircraft, and as such, doesn't need to be certified by the FAA. It's built to a standard that is called ASTM. That standard is defined as an industry consensus, that way, the cost is significantly lower. In fact, it's far lower than a traditional FAR Part 23 certified aircraft like the Cessna 172 which costs more than twi

        • What was the reason the FAA created the LSA category? Even they realized that aircraft certification had become too cumbersome and expensive for anyone to build and certify a new design.

          Unfortunately, while the LSA category is a step in the right direction, there are still a number of restrictions that make it less than ideal for those who want to fly for recreation (i.e., not as a provider of air travel services): you can't fly at night; you can't fly above 10,000 feet MSL; an LSA can have no more than
          • by yabos (719499)
            Even the LSA's are ridiculously expensive IMO. While they're nice, they're still not affordable by most people. Look at the Remos GX, over $100,000 USD for a new one and it's "just" an LSA, severely restricting what you can actually use it for like you say. While many people can afford ~$50,000 USD for an SUV, doubling that for something like an LSA plane is beyond insane to me.
            With the Remos GX and some other newer planes, they're finally moving to composites which is good but the tech. behind most o
          • by wjsteele (255130)
            Actually, you are confusing the aircraft certification with the pilots certificate. A certificated Private Pilot can fly a properly equipped LSA aircraft at night or above 10,000 feet, however, a pilot with a Light Sport Certificate can not.

            As for the seats, yes, that is a limiting factor of LSA aircraft. But I currently fly a Beech Skipper, which is also just as limited, yet is still certified.

            Bill
            • I'll agree that there are also certified airplanes that are just as limited as the LSA's; I was just pointing out that there are few, if any, choices for anything other than an LSA that isn't nearly as old as I am :(

              I did forget about the Dimond and Cirrus airplanes, however...although they are rather expensive, too (and you are correct that I confused pilot certification and airplane certification. I should have known better <sheepish>).
        • by GooberToo (74388)

          In fact, the Cessna SkyCrasher isn't an FAA Certified aircraft at all. It's a light sport aircraft, and as such, doesn't need to be certified by the FAA. I

          You did catch me making a snafu there. As a light sport, you're right that its not technically "certified". It is, however, declared to be in compliance with ASTM, of which the FAA does verify. My understanding the FAA does tersely verify with manufacturer at least some intent of compliance - unofficially. In that vein, the SkyCatcher isn't really the best example to hold high as I did. Accordingly you are right to rebuke me on it.

          Just the same, the point remains, aviation is well over twice as expensive as

          • by wjsteele (255130)
            However, I still don't see how that is an FAA issue. The FAA has nothing to do with liability, it's the court system and the insurance industry that does that.

            Bill
      • Cessnas (Score:4, Insightful)

        by zogger (617870) on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @02:05PM (#30584184) Homepage Journal

        I have the privilege of being able to inspect a lot of cessnas (couple dozen or so) from fully complete up to date and functional to a hangar fulla parts, and every stage in between, including one crashed one where the bonehead decided to fly his groceries with him instead of buying them where he was going, and didn't estimate his weight correctly and didn't make it. He lived through it, but the plane is chunky style now spread out and he needed a lot of re-constructive surgery from what I hear. (old airport where I live, besides being a big farm, I maintain the grounds and fences and do the mowing, etc)

        There has GOT to be a better way to build affordable airplanes. What that might be I don't know, but this old traditional way needs some serious rethinking. Those things are *ridiculous*, and absolutely no wonder why they are expensive and need a lot of reliability insurance, etc. They are made of one zillion tiny pieces of aluminum held together with 100 zillion rivets. Even the ones in good shape aren't capable of keeping their own doors shut if they aren't keylocked, I have to go around and reclose them all the time. I can't see how they keep from getting recalled, rube goldberg doesn't come close to what they are. It's no wonder they need massive inspections and certifications and insurance, etc. and cost so much.

        I have no idea on the quality of other brands and makes, but if one were given to me I'd sell it pronto and look around some more.

  • "You could easily plot these adventurous innovators on a graph, with the X axis showing their skill and the Y axis their financial means."

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but can't you "easily plot" any 2D set of related numbers on an XY graph?
    • by Shimbo (100005)

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but can't you "easily plot" any 2D set of related numbers on an XY graph?

      Sure, but consult a patent lawyer first.

  • I wonder how long it'll be before some bureaucracy sees an opportunity to regulate them out of existence. Seems likely that do-it-yourself anything would be scary to the authorities unless you provide the appropriate bribes which demonstrate the safety of your activity.
  • by EriktheGreen (660160) on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @02:07PM (#30584208) Journal

    A huge trend in the near future (0-20 years) will be home and distributed engineering (inventing) and manufacturing. People will trade information on technologies, how-to information, plans, and parts to make sophisticated products in their home or workshop.

    This is not to say we're all going to get replicators or nanotech manufacturing like in "The Diamond Age" but the level of sophistication of home built products is going to go way, way up. From small appliances to tools to vehicles to weapons, it'll be possible to make a large number of items in places other than traditional factories, in small quantity and high quality.

    To see this sort of thing emerging, look at efforts like Reprap to make a self replicating 3d prototyping machine (which probably won't be 100% self replicating for a long time, but which is a great starting point for at-home applications of the technology) or home CNC machines like router tables and small CNC machine tools. You can buy a CNC milling machine capable of producing small parts eg. for firearms and small engines for less than $3000 with computer. Once these become widespread part libraries for them will be as available as clip-art. Want a new part for your bicycle? Download the pattern, place the raw material in the machine, and walk away.

    As quality items become harder to find in mass produced outlets, items made at home will take their place. Any item with a niche market will probably be made in these mini manufactoria... there won't be a profit any more in making small quantity items since there'll be tremendous competition from small manufacturers.

    No need to keep an inventory of obscure auto parts on hand (or to pay for storage space or sunk costs in the inventory). Just keep the pattern available and churn out parts as needed. Need a part you don't have a pattern for? Ask someone on the internet to measure their part and make a pattern from it, using the same CNC mill to automate the measurements.

    I like the trend myself... but can you imagine the fit the government will throw when it figures out it can no longer regulate eg. firearms because anyone with a CNC mill can turn one out in a day or two? I can see them at first trying to ban home manufacturing, trying to ban precursor items and materials, then trying to create an overarching government agency to police the whole thing.

    It'll be similar to recording companies figuring out they're no longer needed since anyone can distribute or purchase music on-line without their involvement.

    Likewise I can see large corporate manufacturers of some items begging for a government bail-out because no one wants to buy their mass produced crap any more. Why pay $100 for a cheap wal-mart bike when the CNC machine shop in the next town can produce one with 3x the quality for the same price? Why pay a computer store $35 for a plastic keyboard when you can get a solid brass one with better components made at home?

    Erik PS: For those of you that know what this means... we'll be able to evolve an STC pattern for common items :)

    • can you imagine the fit the government will throw when it figures out it can no longer regulate eg. firearms because anyone with a CNC mill can turn one out in a day or two?

      This is already possible and criminals do it [wikipedia.org].

      • Yes, but there's a world of difference between a talented criminal making a working revolver or two and every john doe who can run a computer being able to turn out automatic weapons....
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          The only people making firearms non-commercially in the USA are hobbyists. For everyone else, buying them at WalMart is easy enough.

          I have a benchtop milling machine and enjoy using it (would like to get a lathe soon). I understand where you're coming from, but just because the ability is there doesn't mean people will take advantage of it. Cheap manual mills and lathes have been available for a long time and the only ones buying them are retired machinists and hobbyists. The "average Joe" could care less.

          • There's a world of difference between benchtop tools and small CNC. The latter requires far less skill to produce far more complex parts. More to the point, CNC permits easy replication or repeated parts with high tolerances. Make one for yourself, and one for a friend.

            There'll always be professional engineers and drafters, but there are also people who love to design things for free.. witness the availability of free CNC machine designs online, and patterns to run on them. Or free software, for that

            • But did you make that stub yourself?

              I'm not saying that CNC doesn't change things. I'm saying that it doesn't change things very much for the average home user. For professionals and/or advanced hobbyists, it's game changing -- just look at things like the CriCut. For the average homeowner... yawn!

              • Actually, I did make the stub myself :) Hot rolled square bar of steel faced off and then turned and threaded in the lathe for 1250 lb axle (IE no taper to mess up).

                Not for a heavy use trailer or anything, but I was proud of it... I'm not a pro machinist.

                Let me put it this way... CNC doesn't change things on its own. People not making things now aren't going to suddenly run out and buy a CNC system, even if it's dirt cheap (relatively).

                But cheap CNC appeals to do it yourself types the same way fixin

    • Yes! This right here is the next step in the evolution of human ingenuity. Fascinating specious, aren't we?

      All this time of worrying about outsourcing manufacturing to China, but soon we will be outsourcing to our own garages! Though, as history shows we will use this capability to find wondrous new ways to kill each other. Man the future freaks me out some times.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      People will trade information on technologies, how-to information, plans, and parts to make sophisticated products in their home or workshop.

      Yeah well, don't be so optimistic. You can bet there are certain groups [sfgate.com] who will always be out to nip that kind of thing at the bud.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by EriktheGreen (660160)
        True, but don't forget one of the more famous sayings of the internet age: "Information wants to be free." There's no better way to publicize the practice of at-home manufacturing than by having some large corporation whine about it :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HornWumpus (783565)

      Making things is more complicated then you give it credit.

      Very much in general:

      Before you machine a part you often start with a rough casting or billet.

      After you machine a part you might heat treat and/or electroplate it, depending.

      After that you might do a final grind or EDM (Electric Discharge Machining), depending.

      Heat treatment, beyond the torch and quench, will never be anything other then hazardous and industrial. I wouldn't set up an arsenic salt bath at home, even if it were easy.

      The sa

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by EriktheGreen (660160)

        Again, It's true that some things cannot/will not be made at home, always.

        You're wrong about heat treating, by the way. Plenty of folks out there have set up their own small foundries, and are casting aluminum and iron. Plenty of other folks (like me) have computer controlled kilns for case hardening.

        I think if some complex process is a stumbling block to making a desired item, the designer will try to work around it... redesign a part so it doesn't need the complex process, or substitute a process t

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 29, 2009 @03:59PM (#30585676)

    It takes more than 4 Chinese to build an aircraft, because two Wongs don't make a Wright.

  • We have so much regulation in this country we just can't experiment with new kinds of airplanes or invent a new way of air travel. Imagine all the red tape you will have to go through just to put the damn plane together.

    The FAA has frozen innovation in the airplane industry: we still base our airplane designs in the same basic principles invented 100 years ago because trying something new would require years of research and testing just to comply with their safety requirements.

    I predict these chinese invent

    • Oh please. People in the west have been building experimental aircraft like this for decades.

      "...in this country..."
      What about the other 150+ countries on the planet that are not US or China? Does the FAA rule them as well? No. The laws of physics do. Aircraft designs are the way they are because that's what works.

      Instead of some new design, Chinese airlines buy the same old boring designs from Boeing, Airbus, and Aeroflot, because that's what works.

      A brazillion different designs for small A/C have been

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