Craftsman of the Nation: Aircraft component master

Chinese Culture

China’s fighter jet J-15, deployed on the country’s first aircraft carrier, wowed crowds when it was flying over Tiananmen Square during the grand parade commemorating the end of World War II in September.

The jet is an embodiment of modern technology, a symbol of strengthened national defense and a work of art as well – at least for the men and women who worked behind the scenes to build it.

Fang Wenmo, 31, is one of the individuals who worked day and night to build the J-15. With current technical knowhow many components of the aircraft are machine-made, but some parts still need to be crafted by hand.

Nearly 70 percent of the J-15’s components were made in the factory where Fang was working. Some of the most complex parts, which could not be produced by machines, were handed over to his team.

The work was intricate and required great care, with the margin of error being very narrow.

The smallest margin of error acceptable in manual filing is 10 microns, but the factory’s quality inspector was shocked to see that Fang had cut that down to just three microns, one twenty-fifth the thickness of a human hair.

Apart from the innate complexity of the task at hand, the fact that Fang, at 6 feet 2 inches, is a tall man only made the work all the more challenging.

Because of his height, Fang’s center of gravity is higher, leading to added strain as he has to constantly bend while handling intricate tasks. While there were times that his seniors were worried that Fang would struggle to be successful in the field, he didn’t harbor any such doubts.

Such has been his dedication to perfecting his craft that Fang transformed his home into a workshop to practice filing. Normally, a mechanic wears out around 10 files after a year’s work. But for Fang, that number is 200.

“I’ve never seen a file break; he is too hard on himself,”said Fu Hongan, Fang’s supervisor. “At the beginning, I thought maybe the quality of the file wasn’t good enough, but later I found out it’s because he has put so much strength and effort in practicing. 

When Fang was shaping other components for the J-15, he received a new task—to drill a small hole in a copper connector. Although seemingly simple, the task was critical in terms of making the jet safe for the pilots.

“If there’s any copper scrap and if it drops on any other electrical component while the aircraft is flying, it will cause a short circuit, which can cause a plane crash,” recounted Fang.

Given the seriousness of the task, Fang undertook extensive research and devised a model, with the help of which he was able to drill with precision. But this was not his only creation. During the time that he was working on the J-15, Fang also invented many other new tools to help him at work – some of them have now obtained national patents.

Throughout his journey, Fang has found constant support and inspiration from his family. He views his father, who was also an aircraft mechanic, as the biggest influence in his life.

Unfortunately, however, just when Fang’s career was taking off, his father passed away after suffering from pancreatic cancer.

“Dad said this before he passed away — he said the job I chose was right. Because I am a J-15 maker, I will spare no effort to make it perfect. I am defending the territory of my country as well,”says Fang.
So how does he tackle the loneliness and the long hours of being away from his family?

Well, on a machine that Fang operates every day is carved the figure of a woman. He says that figure is an image of his wife, and that’s what keeps him from feeling lonely.