Boing 474: The Chinese Are Now Knocking Off Our Airplanes

Illustration for article titled Boing 474: The Chinese Are Now Knocking Off Our Airplanes

Chinese manufacturers are experts at knocking off just about anything, from "Rat Ban" sunglasses and "Wee" gaming consoles to, yes, "HiPhones." But now it looks like they're very close to copying another American export: They're bootlegging our Boeing 747s.

Copying our planes is actually nothing new for the Chinese aerospace industry. This has been going on since the late 1990s, when the Chinese military used salvaged pieces of a downed stealth bomber to build their own Chengdu J-20, modeled after the American F-117 Nighthawk. But now they have their eye on our passenger jets, as well.

Newsweek reporter Hugh Gallagher talks about meeting a pilot who was hired to fly a metallurgist to a remote Chinese airline hangar:

Inside were eight planes. They were green—the metal looks like that on unpainted jets, bought factory fresh from Boeing. Four of these planes were intact, but the rest were meticulously dismantled into a universe of pieces spread in vast spirals that disappeared into the distant immensity of the hangar. The imported Singaporean metallurgist jumped out to join the Chinese engineers busily bootlegging away. Armed with protractors, rulers, clipboards, and smartphones, this minor army of reverse-engineering geniuses was measuring the dissected planes, right down to the length and thickness of screws.


With a shiny new airport just opened in Shenzhen, it only seems appropriate that China would want some pretty new jets to go along with it. And, as the Chinese population grows increasingly mobile, it makes sense that they'd want to be jetting around in their own symbols of bootlegged national pride. But Gallagher makes a salient point when it comes to safety: Hopefully they're not copying the Dreamliner. [Newsweek]

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This is a profound waste of time for the Chinese. The challenge with building a 747 is not in putting the parts together. It's knowing why those parts exist in the first place, and even more importantly how to get the parts made to spec, shipped and put into place on time from suppliers around the world. All of that is intellectual property you can't just rip out of an already-completed airplane.

If China wants to build a domestic 747, they need to just go ahead and design and build them. You can't shortcut or half-ass it.