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Homemade helicopter helps wedding take off

Xu Lin
Updated: Sep 19,2014 11:15 AM     China Daily

The helicopter built and piloted by an entrepreneur delivers a bride to her wedding venue in Changzhou, Jiangsu province.Wu Kai / For China Daily

It was a fairytale wedding-with a contemporary twist.

Rather than ride in a carriage conjured from a pumpkin by a fairy godmother to meet Prince Charming at his palace, the bride in Jiangsu province’s Changzhou city arrived in a helicopter built by a friend to meet the groom at a hotel.

It’s not uncommon in the city to rent a chopper for the big day. But what made this ceremony special is that the aircraft was built by the groom’s friend, a 40-year-old local entrepreneur who only gave his name as Shen to the Modern Express newspaper, which reported on Tuesday’s wedding.

The original plan was that Shen would fly over the ceremony to snap photographs. But friends suggested he should also bring the bride.

His chopper is similar to the Robinson R22-a popular two-seat American civilian aircraft.

An hour’s flight costs him about 2,500 yuan ($407). He can fly about 500 kilometers on a full tank of fuel.

Shen became infatuated with aircraft as a child, and the idea of building his own came to him when he saw helicopters on TV two decades ago.

He moved from his hometown Yancheng to Changzhou to start his own company in the 1990s, and his dream of flight came to preoccupy him as his income swelled.

The entrepreneur began tinkering to create his own aircraft in 2008. Last year, he successfully test flew his first handmade helicopter.

He and his team made all the parts aside from the engine and main rotor, which are imported.

Shen has since built four choppers. Production costs range from hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million yuan.

Shen doesn’t have a pilot’s license. But he says he’s undergoing training and should receive one soon.

“It’s more dangerous to fly than drive,” Shen told the paper.

He says he has flown 120 hours since he took up piloting.

The amateur pilot has also shirked requirements to apply for airspace from air traffic control, record flight plans and get his helicopters certified as airworthy.

He tells Modern Express he has submitted the relevant documents several times but in vain.

Still, he has even higher ambitions. Shen plans to start a light-sport aircraft project in Changzhou related to tourism and pilot training with a 50 million yuan investment.

The newspaper reports the proliferation of heliports in Jiangsu means companies and couples often rent choppers for ceremonies and weddings.

Suzhou Industrial Park Heliport Base has received more than a dozen rental requests since it opened this month, and about 50 individuals are undergoing pilot license training there.

The base is offering itineraries for tourists to take 10-minute flights over Suzhou and the provincial capital Nanjing for less than 1,000 yuan after the National Day holiday.

The Suzhou base is the second heliport owned by Ruo’er General Aviation Development Group, which opened the Nanjing Laoshan Heliport Base in 2009.

But sky-high demand and the entrepreneurial zeal of people like Shen seem to suggest Jiangsu’s helicopter industry is just getting ready to take off.