BY SILVI WRITER
The tragic death of Chen Wei, the first Chinese pilot to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine plane, in the United States, is a huge loss to fellow Chinese pilots.
But his story is set to inspire more people to fulfill their flying dreams.
A small plane headed to Memphis crashed in a northwest Atlanta park Thursday afternoon, killing everyone on board, including Memphis entrepreneur Chen.
The executive was one of four of the victims aboard the aircraft when it went down just northeast of Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway between Bolton Road and Fulton Industrial Boulevard.
Chen moved to Memphis in the late 1990s, from Changsa City in Hunan Province, where he was born in 1971. His fascination with planes propelled him to pursue a pilot’s license in 2007.
In 2011, Chen became the first Chinese pilot to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine plane. During the 10-week trip, Chen stopped in 40 cities in 21 countries to raise $250,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The trip around the world was also a source of inspiration for Chinese pilots, for whom Chen’s sudden decease is a huge loss.
China has far fewer Private Pilot License (PPL) holders compared other large countries.
According to the latest official statistics available , China has only 3,152 PPL holders, 90 percent of which were born after 1990, as of 2016. The US, in comparison, has more than 162,455 holders of such license, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
We spoke to Cai Ke, a “fellow pilot” of Chen, his “aviation hero”, to share his fascination with planes and what made him fly high in the sky.
Originally from the city of Leshan in southwest China’s mountainous Sichuan Province, Ke, 36, now lives in Cockermouth, Cumbria, northwest England. He uses Carlisle Lake District Airport the most.
Ke says his next goal is “to fly around the world”, ideally on his own.
“You can say he (Chen) inspired me to do that.”
Below is our interview with Ke.
Silvi: What did Chen Wei mean for you? And his sudden decease?
Ke: Chen Wei is my aviation hero, the first Chinese person to every fly across the globe.
Although I never had the pleasure to meet him in person, I know just about a hundred people who have all met or flown with him. They only have good things to say about him.
From what I heard he is also a vocal advocate for Chinese pilots and General Aviation for China. As a fellow pilot and a fellow Chinese Entrepreneur living in the West, I look up to him in every way.
Silvi: What made you learn to fly a plane?
Ke: Probably the 1986 film Top Gun which inspired a generation of American pilots, but for a boy living in China in the 1980s and 1990s I could only start with static models. After I came to the UK it quickly developed into radio controlled models. And finally, when I have saved up, I spent all I had on PPL training. I just knew I had to do it.
Silvi: What does it mean for you, a dream, a profession, a hobby just for fun, or something else?
Ke: It is my hobby for sure. All wise aviators say this, if you could make money elsewhere to pay for your private flights, don’t go commercial.
Silvi: Was it hard to learn to drive a plane? How hard? Any example?
Ke: It is not harder than driving a car, it is more like doing a university degree.
You just had to be really dedicated and know what you want. For me there was a lot of setbacks, both emotionally and financially. As a father of two at the time, I had to constantly balance between family, work and flight trainings.
But I always knew this is the thing i wanted the most in life.
Silvi: How dangerous do you think flying is? Have you had any dangerous situation? How did you get it sorted?
Ke: If a plane was well maintained and pilot is sensible enough, it is no more dangerous than driving a car, really.
I had one accident about 19 hours into my training, a nose wheel mechanical failure on the Robin HR200 light aircraft caused the plane to steer off the centre line and came out of the runway, during a solo practice touch and go.
I crashed at the speed of 60 miles, just a bit shy of the rotation speed. Luckily the plane ground to a halt in about 10 inch of mud and i escaped unhurt.
Silvi: Can you remember the first time you fly alone? What was the feeling like?
Ke: It was on Dec 10, 2017, a cold day with clear skies.
I was doing my circuit practices with my instructor that morning, after about 3 take offs and landings he just told me to park the plane on apron. As I was unbuckling myself he said stay here, I am sending you out on your first solo.
I didn’t get the shaky legs until I have landed. It was by far the most exhilarating feeling i have ever had and some say that is the most fun one will ever have in his aviation career.
Silvi: Any plan for future?
Ke: My next goal is to fly around the world, ideally on my own. You can say he inspired me to do that.