China peasants build UFO for Earth travel
By Gady A. Epstein
Sun Foreign Staff
November 1, 2004
DUANYUAN, China - Tucked away down an unpaved cart path, behind a high
brick fence, is about the strangest thing anyone could expect to find
in the middle of rural nowhere, short of a UFO - an "experimental base"
for building one.
Well, technically, it's not unidentified, and it's not flying, but what
Du Wenda is building here in eastern China is indisputably an object.
Du, the son of a horse-cart driver, is founder and president of the
Global UFO Scientific and Technological Research Institute of Xiao County
of Anhui Province, an institute with a single proposition: to make a
flying saucer for earthbound travel.
Lacking money, formal education and a full understanding of the science
of flight, Du has an unlikely proposition. Certainly, the first test
"flight," observed by fewer than 20 people just before dusk Oct. 22 at
his experimental base, did not conjure up images of the Wright brothers
at Kitty Hawk. The UFO-looking saucer, with huge horizontal rotors
powered by a used eight-cylinder car engine, rose about 4 inches off the
ground for five or six seconds, he said.
Dreams take flight
Du, 39, a former maintenance man, has spent $95,000 in 2 1/2 years,
including his family's savings, investor contributions and proceeds from
the sale of a cow, but he remains undaunted.
"We are still thinking about ways to find more funds for this, because
at a later stage, if we want to make this into a real product, we have
to buy aviation engines and aviation materials," said Du. "I don't
believe you have to think that building a flying saucer is that hard. What
I'm building will have similar capabilities as a UFO, but the speed
will be much slower."
In the late 1950s, China's countryside became the setting for Mao
Tse-tung's disastrous Great Leap Forward, during which tens of millions of
farmers were exhorted to answer Mao's call to help the country
industrialize quickly by operating backyard blast furnaces to produce steel.
Today, some farmers are committing their livelihoods to the pursuit of
seemingly impossible dreams, including in a few cases the building of a
homemade flying machine, typically a helicopter or plane. It is a
poignant quest to participate in a booming, industrializing society that
still passes most of them by.
Du's is perhaps the most outlandish of those dreams, but his
experimental base could hardly be more modest. Until Du leased the land this
year, farmers hauled bales of cotton every year to this three-acre tract to
sell to the township government.
Parts of Du's futuristic machine rest on concrete slabs where cotton
once was stored. The guts of his contraption - it was disassembled after
the Oct. 22 test - are surrounded by patches of sweet potatoes,
turnips, cabbages and carrots being grown to feed about 20 workers devoted to
the flying machine. The 17-foot-wide chassis and a main rotor sit next
to a spinach patch.
The crops are there in part as a replacement for cash, because Du has
been unable to pay his workers, and there is little prospect of paying
them soon. The workers who remain, along with investors who have
contributed about $50,000 to the project, believe the machine could become a
Some, like Xu Ying, describe their belief as faith, in a way that hints
at a search for meaning in the countryside. She quit her small business
manufacturing clothes and her husband quit his accounting job at a
state-owned company to work on Du's flying machine not long after she heard
about it from friends. The couple invested $2,400.
"It's said to be the transportation tool of aliens," said Xu, 54. "So I
thought this thing that aliens have, can we have them, too?"
One recent weekday, Xu and a few other workers were taking calls from
the Chinese news media, which, after a nationally televised segment on
the project, has swamped them with coverage, all extremely skeptical.
"We do not like the satire, this way they say peasants are building
this UFO," Xu said. "Not only do they not support us, they did not comfort
Xu and others have placed their faith in Du, a self-confident figure
who established a local reputation as an inventor almost a decade ago,
when he sold a patent for a bamboo-weaving machine to a coal mine company
for more than $20,000.
Du has dreamed of flying saucers since he read a comic book in fifth
grade that featured a UFO in a dogfight with an airplane. (The UFO won.)
A graduate of middle school and vocational school, he has long read
anything he could find on UFOs and on aviation. He spent many late nights
drawing up plans, and he lost sleep when he couldn't sort out the
latest wrinkle in his theories.
He borrowed design theories from cars, airplanes and helicopters. He
staged crude experiments to test his ideas, from tossing a homemade
saucer as a child to operating a small battery-powered toy saucer that is
sort of a miniature of his grand project. Two years ago, he earned a
Chinese patent for his flying machine design, which includes horizontal
rotors of differing sizes spinning in opposite directions at differing
"The UFO will have three functions: moving on the ground, in the air or
underwater," Du explained in an interview last week. It will be useful
for short-distance travel, he said, because it would be unaffected by
bad roads or traffic. China's annual air show in Zhuhai invited him to
show the saucer this week, and he is taking a small demonstration model.
A few obstacles
Unfortunately, the demonstration version, a Styrofoam and plastic model
on display at the institute's office in the Xiao county seat, clearly
demonstrates a fundamental obstacle confronting Du: aerodynamics.
As a UFO institute employee powered up the toy, its propellers
whirring, it levitated off the ground and wobbled this way and that during its
brief demonstration flight. It seems that it could sell as a toy - an
option Du is pursuing - but it fails as a model for something larger.
There is no question that a flying saucer can fly, but the problem is
that without adjustable flaps like on a plane, or a tail rotor like on a
helicopter, it is inherently unstable.
Du and his supporters have heard Chinese aerodynamics experts express
such criticism, especially in news coverage in recent weeks, but have
chosen to disregard their views.
"Because UFOs are different from airplanes, aviation experts are not
qualified to comment on the UFO," Du said. "Right now, there are no
experts on the UFO, whether in China or in other countries."
Xu said she felt rattled by some of the criticism but still believes in
Du, noting that he has a patent. In fact, she worries about
"Do you think that publishing a story outside the country will be bad
for us?" Xu asked a visitor. "Because there are also people who are
working on the same kind of project outside of the country. They might
steal our technology."