Helping Design China's First Large Passenger Aircraft

ByZhang Jiamin February 29, 2024
Zhao Chunling, chief designer of the C929 long-range, wide body passenger aircraft with Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. (COMAC), a delegate to the 13th National Women's Congress of China, a National March 8th Red-Banner Holder and an Exemplary Individual in Shanghai


The C919 large passenger aircraft development project carried the dreams of several generations of workers in China's aircraft-manufacturing industry. The success of the C919 project reflects the country's comprehensive strength in industry, and in science and technology. Zhao Chunling, who has worked 15 years in the domestic passenger aircraft-manufacturing industry, has witnessed the realization of China's dream of producing its own airliner. "The ‘Golden Time' for the nation's passenger-aircraft-manufacturing industry has come. I will work relentlessly for the development of this industry," says Zhao. 

Designing China's Large Airliners 

During the Summit on Women Scientists of Pujiang Innovation Forum, held in September in Shanghai, Zhao shared her experiences while developing large passenger aircraft. "I'm honored to participate in the development of the ARJ21 regional and C919 passenger jetliners, and the C929 long-range, widebody passenger aircraft. I have witnessed the realization of China's dream of producing its own airliner. At this moment, a C919 jet is flying from Shanghai to Chengdu (in Southwest China's Sichuan Province)," Zhao told the forum. 

"Each airliner is the result of the hard work of numerous people in this field, including women designers. Women have shouldered their responsibilities in the glorious mission of developing airliners!" 

In 2009, Zhao began working at COMAC Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute, and she participated in the development of the avionics system for the C919 airliner. She was also deputy chief designer of the avionics and electrical systems for the ARJ21 jetliner. 

Despite having to bear the heavy tasks, Zhao has devoted herself to her work. Although she regretted not having much time to spend with her family, she realized dedication was a major work requirement for people employed in the aircraft-manufacturing industry.

Zhao has been busy traveling to various test-flight bases, and on business trips between China and other countries, and she has overcome many difficulties in her research and development. 


"The most distinct feature of commercial aircraft is its high security. The lifespan of a commercial aircraft should be at least 30 years, or 90,000 flight hours. Airlines expect that an aircraft can fly eight hours, or longer, per day to realize its commercial value. It's a challenging task for commercial aircraft designers to ensure their products are safe and reliable, with long life expectancy," Zhao says. 

She and her colleagues never fear challenges. Zhao and her team have used accurate algorithm models to conduct simulations and assessments, and they have conducted many experiments on flight simulators. They have conducted test flights, under various conditions, to verify the design and ensure the safety of the aircraft. 

"To check the capability of the aircraft, in terms of its minimum and maximum airspeed, with altitude, we have conducted test flights in regions where weather conditions can be extremely harsh, including the mountains with temperatures below freezing in southern Shaanxi (in Northwest China), windy areas in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and the hot Turpan basin in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region," Zhao says. 

With consistent efforts, COMAC has made major breakthroughs in several areas, including the aircraft's aerodynamic design, the use of advanced materials, structure design, and integrated modules avionics. Between its first flight in May and the end of November, the C919 jet has completed more than 1,300 hours of commercial flights, and it has safely transported 66,000 passengers. To date, COMAC has delivered 117 of its ARJ21 jetliners to more than 10 clients, including clients overseas, and the jetliners have safely carried more than 10 million passengers. 

"We have completed the entire process of the design, manufacturing, test flight, and airworthiness certification of the airliners, and we have delivered the jetliners to airlines. We are able to develop several types of large passenger jets, and do large-scale manufacturing," says Zhao.

New Journey Ahead

Due to fierce market competition, there are only six major manufacturers of regional passenger jets and trunk jetliners in the world. Development of jetliners reflects a country's comprehensive strength, and its high-end manufacturing capability. 

"As a woman scientific and technological worker, and jetliner designer, it's my responsibility to have large domestic passenger aircraft soaring in the sky. Now, the development of the C929 wide-body passenger jet is under way, and the large aircraft industry has entered the stage of large-scale and serialized manufacturing. We have a lot of work to do on the new journey ahead," Zhao says. 

When asked about women's strength in science, Zhao says, "Women's strong will, thoroughness and keen sensibility make it suitable for women to participate in the long process of jetliner development, as the process requires workers to make key technological breakthroughs, and to coordinate complicated relations. We will continue to play our roles in the development of jetliners, with our wisdom and confidence, and we hope China's jetliners will be the favorites of airlines, pilots and passengers." 


Photos from Shanghai Women's Federation

Sources: Shanghai Women's Federation and China Women's News

(Women of China English Monthly December 2023)



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