First HK-made plane may take off from Chek Lap Kok airport

Pilot who is building two-seater, single-engine plane from a kit - with the help of girls' school pupils - hopes it will be cleared for take-off this year

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:36am

For one local pilot, this year is going to be big.

Hank Cheng Chor-hang is hoping that the first made-in-Hong Kong plane will be cleared for take-off from the city's airport in the second half of the year.

Cheng, a captain with Cathay Pacific and amateur planemaker, has been toiling away on the project for four years - with a little help from about 20 secondary pupils at St Paul's Convent School. Together, they have been building the two-seater plane with a single engine at the school's campus in Causeway Bay, from a HK$1.4 million kit Cheng bought from the United States in 2008.

The aircraft, an RV-8, is 6.46 metres long with a wingspan of 7.38 metres, and has a top speed of 360km/h.

Cheng says the project would have been meaningless if his plane was not allowed to take off from the busy transport hub.

It was partly this high volume of traffic that led the Civil Aviation Department to take six months - and six meetings with Cheng - to come to a preliminary decision in his favour. "I'm so happy the department has agreed on a one-time flight for my plane," he said.

But the department's reply to the South China Morning Post appeared more cautious.

"The RV-8 project team previously had meetings with the department and proposed to operate one short flight from the Hong Kong International Airport," the department said.

"The Civil Aviation Department may consider granting approval for the flight, subject to the project team's submission of all the necessary information, as well as their demonstration to the department's satisfaction that the aircraft is safe to operate."

Although Cheng would have preferred more flights, he said the department's decision at least allowed him to "have an answer" for the St Paul's Convent School pupils who have worked with him on a voluntary basis to assemble parts of the plane.

For four years, he and the group of about 20 pupils have met at the school in Causeway Bay once a week to work on the plane. In an interview with the Post in 2012, Cheng said he had approached other schools to take part in the project, but all of them turned down his requests.

St Paul's principal Sister Margaret Wong agreed to it, and allowed them use of the school premises to assemble the plane, he said.

Now, the assembly work is being done at the premises of Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company's (HAECO) at the airport. Cheng says one of the main tasks will be to connect the wings to the body of the plane.

And when the plane is ready, Cheng will practice taxiing manoeuvres at speeds of up to 80 km/h, at HAECO's base.

Cheng hopes to have the plane ready by this summer - but about three-quarters of the whole assembly process still needs the department's approval. And with final approval, the plane should be able to take to the air in the second half of the year. Cheng is still planning the route, but says the flight will likely be just a couple of minutes.

"I understand Chek Lap Kok is a busy airport, but it is the only airport where it is possible for us to make a flight," he said.

But he is happy to wait as he does not want his first flight to take place outside the city. "That would go against my wish of Hong Kong having its first plane."