Photo of Champaign Aviation Museum's B-25 "Champaign Gal" taking off with a video crew for China's Autohome web program.

Chinese web program films Champaign Aviation Museum

In Historic Grimes Field, NAHA News /

UPDATE 8/31/2016: The video is available online here.

URBANA, Ohio—Six members of a video production team from Beijing, China flew on the Champaign Aviation Museum’s World War II-era bomber on Tuesday, Aug. 9, for a web program with 93 million viewers.

Videographers and co-hosts of the web TV program “On Pilgrimmage” mounted video cameras throughout “Champaign Gal,” the museum’s restored B-25 Mitchell bomber, then took off from historic Grimes Field-Urbana Municipal Airport for a flight over the area. Additional videographers covered the flight from the ground.

Altogether, more than 20 producers, directors, writers, videographers and sound technicians spent the afternoon at the museum, where they gathered material to be used in a four-part series about the Willys Jeep, the iconic World War II utility vehicle that became as famous on land as the B-25 was in the air.

Photo of three Chinese videographers filming at Champaign Aviation Museum.“On Pilgrimage” is a production of the Beijing WanMei Cultural Media Co. for Autohome, a Chinese website that draws more than 93 million viewers per month, according to information provided by the company. It also streams on iQiYi, described as one of China’s largest entertainment platforms with more than 219 million users.

“On Pilgrimmage” follows two hosts through the car cultures of different countries abound the world. Autohome sent a crew from Beijing to Detroit to film the Jeep series and discovered the Champaign Aviation Museum in a web search, said Melanie Ansley, a Los Angeles-based producer for the series.

The B-25 adds wartime context to the program, and scenes of it will be woven into the series, Martin Ma, the program’s director, said through a translator.

The twin-engine Mitchell has an important place in China’s history of World War II. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, America struck back with the famous Doolittle Tokyo Raid. In the raid, 80 airmen in 16 B-25s took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet on a one-way mission—the land-based bombers couldn’t return to the carrier—to bomb Tokyo and hope to reach friendly airfields in China. Most of the planes crash-landed. Chinese civilians were able to rescue most of the airmen, treat their injuries and return them to the United States. Japanese forces waged a brutal retribution campaign against the Chinese for aiding the Americans.

A Chinese videographer mounts cameras inside the nose of the Champaign Aviation Museum's B-25 "Champaign Gal."Flying in the B-25 brought the story alive through their senses, co-hosts Shen Wang and Hao Luo said through a translator. “You can smell it. You can feel it,” Luo said.

On a less somber note, the co-hosts said warbirds are extremely popular in China, just as they are in the United States. “Besides car fanatics, there are tons of aviation fanatics in China,” Luo said.

Ma said the Jeep series is to begin streaming on Autohome Aug. 22. A link will be added to this web page when it becomes available. (Link added 8/31/16.)

“We’re excited that they found us,” said Dave Shiffer, the museum’s executive director. “It’s the first time we’ve had an international crew here filming.”

In addition to “Champaign Gal,” the museum is home to several flying warbirds, and volunteers are building the four-engine B-17 bomber “Champaign Lady,” much of it from new parts made by hand. Located at 1652 North Main Street, the museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although donations are welcome. Visit champaignaviationmuseum.org for more information.