My Dream Career - Flying High with China’s Aviation Industry
My Dream Career - Flying High with China’s Aviation Industry
The sky above Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport was heavily overcast on May 5, 2017. Yet it did not tamper the enthusiasm of thousands from China’s aviation industry witnessing the maiden flight of the C919. Perhaps it was a pre-ordained moment, for the aircraft – China’s truly home-grown aircraft – soon broke through the “dark clouds” that have hung over China’s aviation industry for countless years, soaring into a dazzling future. That day will forever be a magnificent one for China’s aviation industry.
At 2 p.m., the C919 purposefully glided along the runway before setting on a path at full throttle, accompanied by roars of delight. My eyes glistened as the aircraft took off as I recalled the past 10 years I’ve spent with the people of Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. (COMAC) – including the past 5 years with Honeywell. It’s put me front and center with the C919, starting with the company’s foundation in 2008, through first flight and continuing today as it moves toward first deliveries.
Culmination of our Wholehearted Endeavor
It began in 2003, when I was at GE Aviation doing design work for the advanced TAPS low-emission engine combustor. When I heard GE had the contract for ARJ21’s CF34-10A engine, I made up my mind to join the project. It took three applications before I became the first system engineer in GE’s Engine Group with Mainland Chinese background. I was responsible for aircraft/propulsion system integration work for ARJ21’s engine, giving me a unique opportunity to grow and take flight with China’s aviation industry.
I worked through thick and thin with the global design team for China’s regional passenger aircraft. Our hard work ultimately paid dividends when the model successfully underwent its test flight Nov. 28, 2008.
In 2015 I also had the privilege of being on ARJ21’s commercial flight. Thanks to COMAC colleagues, I was able to experience and appreciate the “common thread” for the aviation industry drawn up by COMAC leaders.
China Now Equipped To Compete In The Skies
The skies over China are big enough for its aviation industry to take flight and be noticed by the rest of the world. I’ve had the great fortune to participate in the ARJ21 and C919 projects and to grow with our nation’s industry, combining my knowledge with my desire to grow China’s aviation industry. That has been important to both me and my wife, Dr. Lu Xiaorong. When COMAC was first incorporated and the C919 project launched in 2008, I was responsible for certification work for the ARJ21 engine while she became the director for the C919/LEAP propulsion system program.
In 2013, I joined Honeywell as the leader of Honeywell Technology Solutions China Aero team where I was involved in four key C919 systems, including auxiliary power units, flight controls, wheels and brakes, and navigation. There are currently over 500 Chinese engineers in the Honeywell China R&D team that I have led, with most supporting the C919. Several hundred other workers in Honeywell’s 20 or so factories across Asia, North America and Europe are also involved in the project. Two joint venture companies established by Honeywell in China – Honeywell Boyun Aero Systems (HBAS) and HonFei Flight Controls Technology Co. (Honfei Flight Controls) – provide C919 carbon brakes and fly-by-wire solutions.
As a manager, I believe an international enterprise’s growth in China should be dependent on China’s economic growth, employing a localization strategy and local staff. At Honeywell, eight of 10 members of its Chinese team – from management to technical level – are local Chinese. They cover key aspects of the company from engineering, technology and marketing to human resources and finance. So I’m able to use my expertise leading a world-class team providing advanced avionics and mechanical products for China’s indigenous aircraft platforms and ensuring they meet international standards.
One of my most memorable experiences has been the research collaboration between Honeywell and COMAC on the C919’s flight control system (FCS). Its role is to ensure aircraft stability and control, enhancing flight safety and reducing pilot workload.
The FCS is arguably the nerves of an aircraft. It is used to complete control logic judgment, undertake control and guidance computation, and achieve system management and output of control commands as well as system status display information. Whenever pilots wish to adjust an aircraft’s status, they can use the steering sidebar and pedal to control it.
The FCS computer converts the pilot’s actions into commands transmitted through complex calculations to the aircraft’s actuation and power systems, driving its rudders, throttle lever, nozzle and wheels to adjust flight status and stability and provide protective measures like cabin and voice alarms.
The C919’s FCS supplied by Honeywell is a Fly-by-Wire (FBW) system, developed and produced in part by Honeywell’s Xi’an joint venture, HonFei Flight Controls. The system is an extension of the advanced technology on Boeing 787 aircraft, with specific optimization and enhancement. It ensures the C919 flies even more stably, providing the aircraft with autopilot and auto-landing capabilities.
A traditional FCS uses mechanical structures to control the aircraft, but Honeywell’s FBW system involves conversion of the pilot’s control signals through flight control electronic equipment into electrical signals before transmission using closed-loop calculations to the aircraft’s FCS. This reduces total weight – saving precious fuel – and eases pilot workload so flying the aircraft is easier and safer.
COMAC and Honeywell simultaneously carried out authentication, revision and optimization for the aircraft’s flight control law, accelerating the entire research and configuration process. Honeywell’s professional experience and research on flight control technologies over the past 60 years provided immeasurable support to COMAC. And ever since we kicked off the program, Honeywell China’s flight control engineering team has been actively communicating with their global counterparts to ensure smooth completion of each development phase. This ultimately led to the C919’s successful maiden flight.
That flight serves as a landmark for COMAC and an important day in aviation history. Many will view this achievement with national pride, but for my wife and me it represents a seal of approval for our youthful enthusiasm and passion. It will forever be part of our lives, even as we look forward to what’s next for COMAC and new developments in China’s aviation future.