Hu Shuangqian at work.
For Hu Shuangqian, a skilled senior aircraft parts fitter for nearly four decades, a minor oversight in his work can have drastic consequences.
The 58-year-old heads a team working on computerized controls at Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Commercial Aircraft Corp of China. Hu won the National Labor Medal in 2009 and was named a national model worker in 2015.
Although most aeronautical engineering work is now performed by computer-controlled machines, some parts of Hu’s job still haven’t been programmed and rely instead on his delicate touch.
“The work is ideal for me, as I have been interested in planes since my childhood,” said Hu, who was born in Shanghai in 1960.
He said he liked to look at aircraft photos as a youngster and often walked long distances from home to see planes landing and taking off.
For him, aircraft manufacturing is a respectable job as well as a labor of love.
After graduating from a Shanghai technical school with a major in riveting, Hu was fortunate enough to find a job as a fitter at Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing in 1980.
“I was excited to have an opportunity to grow with the country’s civil aviation industry,” he said.
Hu then joined the manufacturing team of the Y-10, a four-engine narrow-body jetliner developed from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.
The plane, which was designed for 149 passengers, made a successful test flight in September 1980 and eventually connected a number of Chinese cities to Shanghai.
“Unfortunately, the project was canceled in 1985 due to viability and budgetary issues, and business at the factory slowed down,” said Hu. Many workers accepted job offers from other booming private industries.
“A boss from a private enterprise even offered me a monthly salary of 4,000 yuan ($633), three times higher than my income at that time,” Hu said. But he refused.
“I believed that Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing, the only place in China producing civil aircraft at that time, would never close, and that it had a bright future,” he said.
His choice to stay, however, initially brought him and others like him many hardships, and they had to make a living by manufacturing more ordinary items like vehicles and electric fans.
Although China and the United States later cooperated in manufacturing McDonnell Douglas aircraft at the factory, that project was also canceled. Then the workers started to produce aircraft parts for Boeing and Airbus on contract beginning in 1996.
“I cherished that period as a nice break to polish my basic skills so that even the simplest and smallest product was absolutely guaranteed to be top quality,” Hu said.
His efforts eventually paid off when he joined to team to build China’s first domestically developed regional jetliner－the ARJ21-700－in 2003, one year after the project was launched.
Hu’s craftsmanship also contributes to the assembly and maintenance of the C919－China’s homegrown narrow-body jet－a project launched in 2008.
“Participation in production made me so proud and emotional, especially when I saw the plane’s first successful flight from Shanghai in 2017, which marked a great improvement in China’s innovative capability and high technology in aviation,” he said.
“In this era of advanced technology, I’m sure safer, more comfortable and environmentally friendly aircraft will be built in China.”
Despite soon reaching China’s retirement age of 60, Hu said he still hopes to work for another 20 years.