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May 20, 2019

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Love of aviation runs in the ‘most beautiful family’

Like many young boys, Meng Jianxin dreamed of flying. As an adult, he realized he could never become a pilot, so he chose to make planes instead.

Meng, 59, worked on the C919, China’s first domestically designed and manufactured narrow-body large passenger aircraft.

He is now deputy director of the C919 division of Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Co under the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China.

“I fell in love with aircraft in my childhood,” he said, recalling his membership in a school model plane club. “They were a mystery to me.”

Meng’s family shares his enthusiasm for aviation. His daughter Meng Wenyan, 33, went to work at Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing in 2008 as an archivist. She later married a fellow worker at the company.

Meng has a photo taken of himself and his daughter in 1991. It shows the two of them in Meng Jianxin’s aircraft workshop. His young daughter looks mesmerized — the father, proud.

Both of them work in different sections of the factory now and don’t see each other much at work. But both share a pride in the common goals of China’s aviation development program.

Meng Wenyan married Li Fumin, a designer with the company. They have a 4-year-old son who is already showing great interest in planes.

Last week, Meng’s family was among 40 honored with the “Most Beautiful Family” award from the All-China Women’s Federation for its devotion to aviation development.

In 1978, Meng enrolled in a technical school that had a two-year training program to provide workers for Shanghai’s domestic airliner project, code-named the 708 Project.

“There, I learned all about plane structures and assembly,” he said. “After graduation, I worked at the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory making aircraft components.”

China flew its first Y-10 plane, a four-engine, narrow-body jetliner developed by the factory, in September 1980. However, its production was suspended after only two jetliners were manufactured because changes in national economic policy had opened the door to the entry of foreign aircraft manufacturers and planes.

Meng’s factory went into decline after the MD-82 flight production line of US aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglas was introduced in China.

Many workers at the factory were surplus to need and had to seek jobs overseas. Meng joined a Singapore-based fuselage-maintenance company.

In 2002, after spending a few years in Singapore, Meng received a call from his old factory, which had by then become Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Co. His old boss wanted him back — to work on development of China’s first large passenger aircraft.

Although his Singaporean employees tried to tempt him to stay with offers of higher wages and permanent residence, Meng followed his heart and returned to China.

“They were making the domestic commercial regional aircraft ARJ21 at that time,” he said. “I found the old workshops had never been refitted and weren’t air-conditioned. Sometimes we had to work with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, and glue had to be applied at night or it would melt.”

In 2007, the finishing touches were made to the first ARJ21 jetliner. It had a smooth maiden flight in Shanghai a year later. So far, 11 ARJ21 jets are in use domestically.

With the success of the ARJ21, a new era in China aviation opened. Work on the C919 began in 2008.

“For the C919, we almost had to start from scratch,” Meng said. “It was a brand-new type that we had never made before, and it demanded extremely high-quality work.”

Often, he slept in his office and made do with instant noodles as meals.

“I used to stay awake for days awaiting test results of the aircraft’s fuel tank and trying to fix any problems that arose,” he said.

“But I saw myself as a model of the younger generation and I couldn’t let them down.”

The maiden flight of the C919 in 2017 was an unforgettable moment for Meng.

“All the memories of how hard my colleagues and I had worked for that moment came flooding back to me,” Meng said.

“I nearly burst into tears when the C919 aircraft flew over us.”

Meng said making planes is his lifelong passion.

“I keep telling my boss not to ever remove me from the flight production line,” Meng said.

“If one day I’m unable to do what I am doing now, I will be happy to still be there, even sweeping the floors.”


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