Aircraft designer Gu Songfen wins China’s top science award

Gu Songfen works in his office. (Photo courtesy of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Ltd.)

Chinese aircraft designer Gu Songfen won China’s top science award for his outstanding contributions to scientific and technological innovation.

An awards ceremony was held on Nov. 3 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to honor Gu, a leading scientist at the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Ltd., as well as other scientists with major contributions.

Gu, an academician at both the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, was born in 1930 in Suzhou, east China’s Jiangsu province. He started working for the aviation industry after graduating from university in 1951.

In 1956, the first airplane design office of the People’s Republic of China was established in Shenyang, northeast China’s Liaoning province, and Gu was appointed the head of an aerodynamics group.

It was there that Gu encountered the first major challenge of his career – the aerodynamic design of the jet trainer Shenyang JJ-1, the very first jet aircraft of China.

Gu, who studied propeller-driven aircraft at university, didn’t know much about jet aircraft. Therefore, he had to learn new stuffs, day and night.

He heard that Beihang University, previously known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, had the documents that he might need, so he went to Beijing from Shenyang. In order to minimize the disturbance to students, he searched for and studied the materials in the university’s library at night. Finally, he came up with the aerodynamic design criteria for subsonic aircraft and the engineering calculation method for aerodynamic properties, and completed the aerodynamic layout plan for the Shenyang JJ-1.

Following this initial achievement, Gu completed the aerodynamic layout plan for the Nanchang CJ-6, the first Chinese basic trainer aircraft, and established an aerodynamic design system for subsonic aircraft.

Immediately after that, he joined aerodynamic studies of supersonic aircraft, and the aircraft aerodynamic design system he established is still an important reference for Chinese aircraft designers today.

In 1964, China started developing its first high-speed and high-altitude interceptor fighter jets – J-8, and Gu led the aircraft’s aerodynamic design as a deputy chief designer. Later, he was appointed the chief designer of the project.

Sixteen years later, he was again appointed the chief designer of J-8 II, the next generation of the J-8 interceptor that outperforms its predecessor in every aspect. He led over 100 design and manufacturing organizations, and sent the aircraft into the air in only four years.

Gu said his biggest wish is to never leave the cause of aviation.

In 1986, Gu was transferred to Beijing for work, where his major duty was to make decisions on major national projects and to make suggestions on the aeronautic equipment system construction and the layout of the country’s national defense.

He still pays close attention to the development of aircraft, and has joined the making of multiple airplanes, including the narrow-body airliner C919, the fighter jet J-10, the large military transport aircraft Y-20, the supersonic advanced jet trainer JL-9 and the regional jet ARJ21. Besides, he is also actively promoting the development of Chinese seaplanes.

Though the nonagenarian had gone through surgeries, he’s still working every day. It takes him longer to cover the distance between his home and his office, which used to cost him around 10 minutes, but he is still punctual.

“To learn the new development of aviation industry is what makes me happy in my twilight years. All I can do now is to read some books, translate some materials and try to offer as much assistance as possible for the young people,” he said.

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