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China's Aeroengines - Early Developments

Over more than thirty years, China's aeroengine industry achieved great success: it established a large number of test facilities and considerable production capabilities; it has trial produced, modified, and developed many types of engines, which basically satisfied the need of the aircraft; it has trained and tempered a powerful technical team and gained precious practical experiences. All these have laid down a foundation for the development of new type aeroengines, and provided better services for the development of the advanced aeroplanes and other flight vehicles.

Due to insufficient experiences, China's aeroengine industry has gone through some detours in its development. The common problem had been the lack of a stable and long term plan. There had been too many changes to initial plans, and some developments were stopped half way; there was no effective accumulation of technical experiences; the performance of the products could not be improved step by step; the progress of constructions of research and test facilities was slow; there was no appropriate arrangement for the development and production teams; there were insufficient funds for the research and development; etc. All these have affected the progress of developing new engines. The special problem was that there was no thorough understanding of the features of the aeroengine development. This was mainly reflected in two aspects: one is that there was no sufficient understanding of the aeroengine industry as a relatively independent business.

Very often the R&D of the engine followed the changes of the aircraft projects, i.e. when the aircraft project went, the engine project went; when the aircraft project was cancelled, the engine project was also cancelled accordingly, all of which was harmful to the development of the aeroengine technology. In fact, an advanced aeroengine can be developed into many versions for applications on different aeroplanes, and converted for industrial and marine powerplant. Therefore, the R&D of a new engine must be carried out in advance of, and independently of, the aircraft. In this way, the needs of the aircraft can be better satisfied.

In the past, insufficient attention was paid to advanced R&D. Occasionally, a decision of launching a high performance engine program was made when there was no sufficient technical base; when the core engine and component technology had not been solved, the development of the complete engine started. The result was "things went contrarily to wishes" and "more haste, less speed". Practice proved that the correct approach was to pay attention to applied research and prepare a solid technical base. On the one hand one should continuously use available technology and research results, and carry out improvements and modifications continuously on the existing engines; on the other hand, one should also actively develop advanced components and core engines.

The function of an aeroengine is to provide necessary power to aircraft for flight. The flight history of mankind is closely related to the development of the flight power. And it was the birth of the internal combustion engine that made the powered, controllable, continuously flyable aircraft possible; the existence of the jet engine realized the supersonic flight; the tremendous thrust of the giant rocket engine brought man into space.

The "heart" of the aeroplane is of course the engine, and it plays the most important role. Its performance and structure has a direct influence on the tactical and technical performance, operational reliability and economy of an aeroplane. Normally, aircraft engines fall into categories of: piston engine, turbojet engine (turbojet), turbofan engine (turbofan), turbopropeller engine (turboprop) and turboshaft engine (turboshaft). As the aircraft engine has to operate for long hours repeatedly under high temperature, high pressure, high rotation speed and heavy load conditions, it must be of light weight, compactly structured, safe, reliable, and economical. Therefore the design must be carefully worked out, manufacturing must be precise and materials and vendor-furnished accessories must be of good quality, to make it a product of high technology and high additional value. Into its development are incorporated results of vast R&D in specialised technologies. Therefore the R&D of an aeroengine must be independent and in advance of that of the aircraft and under a stable development plan and a powerful leadership. Thus, nowadays in the world only a few industrially developed countries, such as the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France, are able to undertake the R &D for advanced aeroengines independently.

Its development has gone through three stages; initially, repair and overhaul, mastery of the production technology and research and development of new type aeroengines.

  • Starting with repair: In 1951, three aircraft engine repair factories were set up in Harbin, Shenyang and Zhuzhou. In the same year, they repaired and overhauled 337 engines of 4 types used on trainer, fighter and bomber aircraft. The establishment of these three factories laid a foundation for the development of China's aeroengine industry.
  • Mastery of the production technology: From the first half of 1952, through the manufacture of spare parts for repair and overhaul, -these factories gradually increased their capability of production, which created the necessary conditions for the transition to manufacture of the complete engines. Starting from 1953, the two factories in Zhuzhou and Shenyang were expanded or newly established consecutively and the licence production of M-11FR and WP5 aeroengines were successfully completed in 1954 and 1956 respectively. In 1957, the Harbin Engine Factory also succeeded in the licence production of Ash-21 engines. Production of these engines marked a significant phase in China' s mastery of production technology for aeroengines.
  • R&D for new aeroengines: During the latter part of the First Five-year Plan, on the one hand the aeroengine industry had successfully established new factories in inland China, expanded production scales, undertaken the production of supersonic aircraft engines and high thrust aeroengines, and worked hard to improve its manufacturing technical levels. In the meantime, however, the first aeroengine design office (the predecessor of the Shenyang Aeroengine Research and Design Institute) was born in Shenyang. Other factories also began to establish their own product design offices. Beginning in the mid 1960s, some research and design institutes were successively established in Sichuan, Zhuzhou and Wuxi. Based on the mastering of production technology, through the ways of troubleshooting, life extension and modification programs for the existing engines and doing applied research, some engineering development programmes were launched and various types of engines successfully developed to power the trainer, fighter, attack aircraft, helicopter, transport and drone. With the accumulation in practical experiences, the expansion in test facilities and the progress in advanced R& D, the R&D capability of the Chinese aeroengine industry is continuously increasing.

It was during the development of the aircraft engine manufacture, that the primary foundation for the manufacturing technology of rocket engines became apparent. In the middle and later part of 1950s, one aircraft engine overhaul factory turned into a liquid propellant rocket engine manufacturer developing and producing large and medium liquid propellant rocket engines. In 1965, this factory and its tasks were assigned to the 7th Ministry of Machine Building. The development and production of the solid rocket engines for air-to-air missiles was undertaken by the Zhuzhou Aeroengine Factory (ZEF).

By 1985 China's aeroengine industry has gained great achievements. A number of factories and institutes had been established: 8 aeroengine manufacture bases, 4 research institutes and design institutes, and 5 factory-managed design institutes located all over the country. A strong and capable technical contingent has been formed including more than 10,000 engineers and technicians. A total of about 27,000 engines in 30 types had been repaired or overhauled, among them more than 4,000 engines were overhauled during the Korean War. It provided the timely support for the operation and training of the Air Force. Some 48,000 engines and a huge amount of spare parts in 25 types have been manufactured and delivered mainly for the Air Force and Navy, with 756 engines in 10 types for CAAC and some engines for foreign assistance and export. Nine types of solid and liquid rocket engines for air-to-air, ground-to-air, ground-to-ground, and coast defence missiles have been manufactured. About 40 improved versions and new types of engines have been developed and a substantial part of them put into series production for updating the equipments of the Services.

China's aeroengine industry had reached a stage where it has a good solid foundation. It's future plans are to learn from past experiences, adhere to the policy of "stand on our own feet", to strengthen international technology exchanges and improve the capabilities currently held in the research and design fields. The industry aspired to become, as quickly as possible, ranked among the world's leading and advanced aeroengine industries.




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