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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 2 July 28, 2008     

Nanchang import capitalizes on a Chinese warbird
By Frederick A. Johnsen

Phil Cogan and his Nanchang aircraft. Photo by Phil Weston

Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen

The Nanchang CJ-6 started life a half-century ago as a simple, rugged trainer for Chinese air force pilots. Lighter than a T-6 Texan and in the same general category as the beloved American T-34 trainer, the CJ-6 fills a practical niche in the stable of warbirds.

B.J. Kennamore of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is an enthusiastic CJ-6 owner who brought his Chinese warbird to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008. He says Chinese policy is to ground the CJ-6s when they log 3,000 hours. At that point, they become exports to America while new CJ-6s continue to fill in the ranks for the Chinese military. That 3,000-hour milestone is not a problem to those who own CJ-6s. "They’re built tractor-like," Kennamore explains. The aluminum structure is anodized inside and out, minimizing corrosion worries.

Considered the first indigenous Chinese aircraft design when it rolled out a half-century ago, the CJ-6 was meant to be ruggedly simple. Kennamore says the Chinese "built this airplane for themselves…they got it right." Noticeable dihedral in outer wing panels lends great stability, yet the CJ-6 is a good aerobatic performer. It is built for six positive Gs and three negative. Many systems—landing gear, flaps, even engine starter—are pneumatic. A pump supplies a primary and an emergency air pressure bottle to work these systems; instruments are electric.

The Chinese nine-cylinder radial engine produces 285 hp. The CJ-6 cruises at 150 knots true airspeed (TAS) while burning about 13 gallons of gas an hour. Some owners use 100 low-lead; Kennamore says the CJ-6 has been run on 87-octane car gas, too.

A disassembled CJ-6 (they come packed two to a shipping container) can cost $60,000 or more. One pilot called the aircraft that comes out of the container "flyable but grungy." New owners may add an additional $30,000 to $50,000 to make the CJ-6 the glossy stunner it is at AirVenture, with paint and the required installation of an American altimeter. In the first 10 hours logged as a warbird, the CJ-6 must demonstrate its full range of maneuvers before being given an experimental ticket. Freshly overhauled radial engines run about $15,000.

That aerobatic capability attracts some buyers. Kennamore says the handling characteristics of the CJ-6 are exemplary. "There isn’t a bad bone in its body," he says. Difficult to spin, the CJ-6 is also easy to get out of a spin; "it’s out immediately" with application of spin recovery procedures, Kennamore says. The lack of vices makes the CJ-6 a good warbird for general aviation pilots like himself, he adds.

Warbirds from communist bloc countries are represented by a fraternal organization in this country—the RedStar Pilots Association. Some members distance themselves with a smile from the politics of the countries that birthed these warbirds, while embracing the remarkable performance of their foreign flying machines. At AirVenture 2008, RedStar members hope to have the largest gathering of communist bloc aircraft in the United States. As many as 50 CJ-6s were expected to arrive en masse Monday, with 70 of the Chinese imports registered to attend this year’s AirVenture. They will be joined by similar Yak-52 trainers. (Can’t tell a Yak from a Nanchang? The Nanchang CJ-6 has a square tail, tricycle gear, and marked dihedral; the Yaks have rounded tails and either tail wheels or nose wheels, depending on variant.)

A confluence of well-numbered anniversaries occurs at AirVenture this year with the 50th anniversary of the Nanchang CJ-6, the 30th anniversary of the Yak-52, and the 15th anniversary of the RedStar Pilots Association.

B.J. Kennamore says you don’t have to be an owner of a Yak or Nanchang to join RedStar Pilots Association; with 500 members and growing, the organization is a clearinghouse of information about these "rugged but red" aircraft.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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