Boing 474: The Chinese are Now Knocking Off the US' Airplanes

By Alissa Walker on at

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 their Boeing 747s.

Copying the US' 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, an eerily similar twin to the American F-117 Nighthawk. But now it looks like they have their eye on the US 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]