The sky’s the limit for China’s DIY aviators, Michele Travierso says:
These garage builders and innovators are, like their products, often called shanzhai. Literally translated, it means “mountain strongholds,” but it has come to mean nonprofessional or clandestine manufacturers turning out products from the basic to the highly sophisticated. These shanzhai often take familiar products, concepts and marketing memes and remake them with peculiar but innovative twists.
Xu Bin, a 31-year-old farmer from Zhejiang province, became an internet sensation and the face of the shanzhai zeitgeist when a video of him flying his autogyro went viral:
Bin managed to design and build the contraption, which uses a rotor for lift and a propeller for thrust, then teach himself how to fly it after checking the internet for guidance. He’s built four flying machines, including a two-seater. It’s strictly a low-budget affair, as Bin finds using new engines beneath his dignity. Using old motorcycle engines, he says, “keeps me on my toes. It prompts me to be a better designer.”
Bin says the craft is inherently safe because it can safely glide to the ground in the event of an engine malfunction. Many wannabe pilots have paid Bin a visit in the three years since his first flight, and he is only too happy to offer advice and guidance gleaned from hundreds of flights.
The authorities, he says, “leave me mostly alone, as I fly low and locally.”
Modern China is more like the America of 100 years ago than modern America is.