Feng Ru 2

Feng Ru (Fung Yue or Fung Joe Guey) (1883 – August 26, 1912) was the “Father of Chinese Aviation.” He was the first person to pilot an airplane on the West Coast, flying over Oakland and Piedmont on September 21, 1909.

In October, 1910, Feng Ru crashed when his propeller suddenly stopped while flying over Elmhurst. Feng was uninjured, but his biplane took several weeks to repair. 6

1911 7

from The Chinese of Oakland: Unsung Builders, 
by Eve Armentrout Ma and Jeong Huei Ma
Collection of Oakland History Room/Oakland Public Library
     One of the most interesting and colorful of the refugees who did not stay in Oakland permanently was Fong Yue or Fong Joe Guey. Born in 1882 in the Yanping district of Kwangtung province, he came to the United States at the age of twelve, living and working in various parts of California before trying to settle in San Francisco in 1906. The earthquake spoiled his plan and sent him fleeing to Oakland. He was always interested in machinery, and one of the first things he did after arriving in Oakland was to organize an airplane manufacturing company, only a few years after the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk flight.
     Within two years of founding the company in 1908, Fong Yue constructed his first airplane and even manufactured his own motor. On his test flight, however, Fong Yue crashed his airplane into his own workshop which caught fire and burned to the ground.*
     Undaunted, the aviation pioneer found space to build his second airplane which he launched above the Piedmont hills on September 21, 1909. This was the first airplane manufactured by an Oakland resident to fly in that area. Unfortunately, this airplane crashed as well after a twenty minute flight when the bolt holding the propeller shaft broke. Fong Yue later moved back to China where he went on to build at least one completely successful airplane. However, in 1912, while piloting, he was killed in an airplane crash in his homeland.

Submitted through the courtesy of Steven Lavoie, 12-3-04
  *JUST A MEMORY     The location of the shop, 367 Ninth street, Oakland, is now on the football field at the campus of Laney College, one of our community colleges. Plans are afoot for some housing and commercial buldings there...I thought I might find a group to prod the developers into putting a marker there or something for the fearless flyer.
Update from Steven Lavoie, 12-9-04



from Resourceful Chinese
by Ah-Tye, Howard
Collection of Oakland History Room/Oakland Public Library
     Gradually, Asian Americans are being acknowledged for their contributionto this society by the government. For this recognition we, especially the older genereation who have often felt the stigma of racial discrimination more acutely in our early days, are grateful. It has been long due, but we still cherish this belated compensation.
     There are two outstanding Chinese aviators I would not hesitate to commend: Fong Joe Guey and Alfred Lai.
     Fong Joe Guey was born in 1882 in the Yangping district of Kwangtung Province. He immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 12. In later years he worked for awhile in San Francisco and attended evening classes to study English. He then moved to the eastern part of Califronai from 1898 to 1906. During this periond, he developed an interest in machinery and electircal technology, spending his evenings home carrying on experiments to satisfy his curiosity. He designed and constructed electric motors and set up a wireless telegraph set in his own room. He also became intrigued with the idea of building airplanes.
     In 1906, he moved back to the Bay Area and in 1907, formed a company in Oakland to design and construct airplanes. BY April 1908, he managed to build his first plane, but it failed on its first test flight. To add to his dilemma his workshop caught on fire and burned to the ground. Undaunted, he built a second plane. He tested it is September 1909, above the Oakland hills and was able to fly it for 20 minutess, until the belt holding the propeller broke and the plane crashed. Fong Guey continued building planes, and in 1911, his plane stayed in the ari for 40 minutes and landed without a mishap. The Chinese government heard of his talent (for after all, this wa only a few years after the Wright brothers had made thier famou=s Kittyhawk flight) and persuaded Fong to come to China help organize a national air force. He died in 1912 in a plane crash while demonstrating his flying technique.

Submitted through the courtesy of Steven Lavoie, 12-3-04


  ONLINE RESOURCES - I     If you search for "Feng Ru +aviation using the Google search engine, (9-5-03), you will find about 16 links. Several of the following are the most helpful.  
  Feng Ru: der erste chinesische Flugzeugingenieur und Pilot
Feng Ru: First Chinese Airplane Engineer and Pilot
     This page on the Chinese Radio International website, German version, offers a very complete and totally fascinating story of the career of Feng Ru. I was alerted to it by my friend Roy Nagl, who has donated so many beautiful photographs of pioneer aviators and aeroplanes for my site. The transcript originates from a radio broadcast which was offered in the German Service on September 9, 2003. If you read German, you can access the page by clicking on the title above. 
     For the benefit of my visitors who don't read German, including me, I have translated the text with the aid of the BabelFish program on the AltaVista site. The machine-translated story is a little awkward, but ever so much better than nothing. I have tried to make it a little more readable.
" A: OK ONE, dear listener inside and listener, cordial welcome with our?Chinesischen records?. 
B: Yes, Lu Ming, which have you today for our listeners prepared?
A: If listener loves, how you know, the first airplane of the world was built by the American WRIGHT brothers.
B: I know also. In 1903 the WRIGHT brothers built the first powered plane in the USA which actually flew. 
A: Aha, you knows itself thus out. And today we will present to our listeners, Feng Ru, the first airplane engineer and pilot in China.
B: Yes? Well then tell our listeners nevertheless times more about this Chinese aviation pioneer. 
A: OK ONE. Feng Ru was born on 15 December 1883 in Kreis Enping. At 12 years of age, he went to live with relatives in the USA. There he learned an occupation and became a good technician .
B: But now he had the idea build an airplane, not in the USA where he lived, but in China, where he had originated? 
A: In December 1903, when the WRIGHT brothers' airplane had flown as the first powered plane of the world, the immigrant Feng Ru was inspired. The year 1904 brought then a further historical event? the Japanese-Russian war in northeast China. Feng Ru participated in the happening in China in the USA, and he was conscious itself of the military meaning of the new flight apparatuses. He said: "Had we had thousands of airplanes at the Chinese border, the foreign forces would have surely been deterred." Thus he decided to dedicate himself to the development of aviation in China. 
B: Thus did he begin to build an airplane? 
A: Yes, with financial support from other Chinese immigrants in the USA, he began to build an airplane in 1906. In 1907, in Oakland, a city east of San Francisco, in spite of all kinds of difficulties, he constructed the Guangdong Airplane Factory. By 1909 he had built an aeroplane, the first which had been designed and built by a Chinese. He called it "Feng Ru No. 1".
B: Well ask!
A: And on September 21, 1909, Feng Ru completed the first test flight from a hill in the proximity of Oakland , which was witnessed by some American journalists as well as three of his coworkers. Feng Ru reached a height of 4.5 meters with his airplane, and flew some 800 meters along the hill. Thus, he was the first Chinese who had built and flown an airworthy airplane. To that extent, he can be considered to be a pioneer of Chinese aviation, even though the event occurred in California. But was Feng really Chinese or not?
B: Well, was it a completely successful test flight for that time of the year 1909?
A: Unfortunately not completely. After approximately 20 minutes, the flight came to a sudden end when the propeller failed and the aeroplane fell to earth from a small height. Fortunately, Feng Ru got off with only a bad scare and was not hurt. 
B: Fortunately, one can only say there. 
A: Yes. And although the "Feng Ru No. 1" airplane was damaged during the first test flight, it can be proven that it flew, and the Chinese immigrants in the USA were legitimately very proud. They continued to support Feng Ru's airplane endeavors, and so he went to Ru NR in January 1911 with his new airplane"Feng. 2" in Oakland to the start. On January 18, Feng Ru completed the test flight of Feng No. 2. He covered a distance of some 12 meters in a flight which lasted four minutes. It was a total success. And, do you know Qiu Jing, who was also there in Oakland at the time of the test flight? Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the prominent revolutionary who at the time was in the USA and had heard of the flights of the Chinese Feng Ru in Oakland. When he learned more of the successful test flights, Sun Yat Sen commended the flight pioneer Feng Ru's courage and encouraged him to dedicate himself to aviation in China. 
B: And did Feng Ru do that? 
A: He did. In February 1911, Feng Ru made his way to China from Oakland, taking with him two airplanes. He wanted to develop aviation in China.
B: Correct, in 1911 the monarchy in China had fallen by a revolution led by Sun Yat Sen. 
A: Exactly. The revolution caused the downfall of the Qing dynasty in October, 1911. Feng Ru participated in it and was appointed Captain of the Air Force by the revolutionary government of the Guangdong province. In March 1912, he built his first airplane in China, the very first airplane to be manufactured in China. At that time, the country as a whole acknowleged that Feng Ru had become the pioneer of Chinese aviation. Later, he organized aviation shows on several occasions in China in order to popularize aviation among the Chinese. On August 25, 1912, at one of the shows in Guangzhou, Feng Ru crashed and died. He was only 29 years of age..
B: A tragic and a much too early end to a promising career. 
A: Yes, but the contribution of Feng Ru to the development of aviation in China will never be forgotten. After his death a monument for him was erected in Guangdong. And 1985 built in its homeland Enping one intend-resounds for Feng Ru. 
B: OK ONE, dear listeners, so much for Feng Ru, the first Chinese airplane engineer and pilot and developer of aviation in China."

Feng Ru (pilot) in Oakland (circa 1907)

A Chinese immigrant, Feng Ru built airplanes in Oakland, and one of his workshops was on the site of what is now Laney College.

bust at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics1bust at Oakland Aviation Museum
photo CC SA-BY Our Oakland

A bronze statue of Feng Ru was unveiled at Laney College on the 100th anniversary of his historic flight in 2009. The bust was subsequently moved to the Oakland Aviation Museum.

San Francisco Call September 21, 1909  The Feng Ru 1 in Oakland, California 3

Later Life

Feng Ru had wanted to return to China and bring such advances as the telegraph and electricity as well as powered flight. After his triumphant successes in Oakland, Sun Yat-sen specifically requested Feng return to China.

Death and Burial

During an aerial exhibition on August 26, 1912, Feng Ru was killed when his plane crashed. Sun Yat-sen insisted he be buried in the Mausoleum of the 72 Huanghuagang Martyrs, where his tomb was inscribed with "Pioneer of Chinese Aviation". 1,4

Links and References

  1. Fung Joe Guey on Wikipedia

  2. Oakland History Room to Host Feng Ru: Conquering Pacific Skies

  3. Oakland CA Chinatown Makes Aviation History San Francisco/SFGate

  4. Pilots, Planes and Pioneers Wright-Brothers.org

  5. "I'll Finish My Airship, Then I'll Show China" San Francisco Call May 23, 1909
  6. Coast Haps and Mishaps of the Week Sausalito News October 15, 1910
  7. He Will Fit Wings to the Chinese Dragon San Francisco Call March 19, 1911