We're batting these letters back and forth like a shuttle cock. I too, am interested in preserving as much history of CNAC as possible. I guess it's an ego trip, to leave a little something to shake someone's memory some years from now. I'm sure a lot of people would say, "Who Cares?", but if that's universally true, why have so many wealthy guys donated buildings, telescopes, health foundations, etc. to preserve their names? I'm with you in trying to let someone know that CNAC existed fifty and more years ago.
Actually, the operations of CNAC divide into at least three different periods, so different from one another as to be almost 3 different airlines. Up until the beginning of the "Hump" operation, CNAC was a typical "third world" type of airline with the burden of trying to endure, first the war lords, and then the Japanese. Then came the "Hump". After that, when we moved up to Shanghai, we became a quasi-commercial type operation. You were in the Hump operation and I was in the quasi-commercial period. I never saw the Hump, or Dinjan, or Calcutta (except for a couple of trips), so I find difficulty relating to a video, which is going to cost $100,000 and relate almost entirely to the Hump. I feel different about your CNAC #53 video. It's a great story and I admire your tenacity and guts to go through that tough trip. If you're still out of pocket I can add a couple more shekels. Did some of those other guys come through?
Relating to your letter of Jan 27, 99, you mention slipping your C-46 or C-47 to steepen your approach. We slipped occasionally, but tried to avoid it especially with passengers. Going into San Hu Pau at Chunking, after you crossed "the cable", you could slow a C-47 down to 70 MPH, maneuver around and hit the first 20 ft of the runway. You were on the back side of the lift/drag curve and dropped like a rock. Same thing when you were going down through those apartment houses going into KaiTak at Hong Kong. If you glided a C-47 80 MPH at San Hu Pau, you'd have to side slip or at Hong Kong you'd end up in the bay. The C-46 had a steeper glide angle than a C-47 it seemed to me.
On the story of Black Christmas*, in a way I was probably lucky that I wasn't up flying that night. I'd got chilled up in Chunking after taking a hot bath at the hostel and came down with pneumonia. It hit me half way from Chunking to Hankow and I made almost an instrument landing at Hankow even though the weather was perfect. I could hardly see past the cockpit windows. There were a couple of other CNAC planes there at Hankow going to Shanghai, so they put my passengers on them, and slipped me into the copilot's seat in Toad Morgan's plane. He radioed ahead and Doc Richards met me at the plane and took me into the hospital. Fortunately, they had this new penicillin drug and jabbed me in the ass with it. In a couple of hours I felt that I could play a basketball game. Marvelous stuff. Of course that was only the beginning of (I think) about 30 shots. At least for several days they'd wake me up every four hours and jab me again. That early penicillin didn't last in the blood stream like it does now. --Well, when I got out of the hospital, Doc Richards wouldn't put me back on flight status for a couple of weeks. That was when Black Christmas (1946) occurred. We could hear those poor bastards up there milling around in the fog and there wasn't any thing that any of us could do to help them.
Being Christmas Eve, Operations had scheduled mostly the guys who weren't married or whose wives hadn't arrived to fly that day. I'd sure have been one of them because Rosemary and the Reds weren't due for a couple of weeks. Who said pneumonia is all that bad?
We learned some real lessons that night. I'm not sure you ever flew out of Lunghwa. Did you move up to Shanghai? -- Well, anyway, Lunghwa was pretty primitive with gravel runways, and nothing but flare pots to mark them for night operations, a sad situation with visibility down to less than 100 ft. The radio marker beacon was over in the corner of the field between the two runways. We didn't have a real let-down procedure. All of that changed in a hurry after that debacle, -- When the new runway became operational, the beacon perfectly located in line with the runway and the new Bartow High Intensity lights we could depart two hours earlier in the morning and come in any time of the night. Then, the company began bearing down on precisely following the let-down procedures. We all had to check out with Harvey Mahrt, let-down after let-down until you were ready to beat him over the head. I understand that even though he could fly his instruments, he was a failure out on the lines and they made him an instrument check pilot to keep him. I think he was Pan American.
I'm going to write you something about our post WWII operation, but I wanted to answer your letter first. Your operation on the Hump, as I understand it, was quite similar to a military squadron type of operation. At least while you were in Dinjan. All of the pilots bunked in a hostel and did very little except eat, sleep, and fly. At least there weren't any wives and family there. Over a few drinks lots of poker and shooting the bull, you really got to know each other. When someone went down, you really felt it.
In Shanghai, except for a few months in CNAC "Boys Town" hostel, we all had homes, wives, kids, parties, you name it, a regular life. We'd see each other (other CNAC pilots) when you came out to Lunghwa to take out a flight. O course we couldn't all get on the runway at once or all come up to the terminal to load passengers at the same time so the operation was extended over a couple of hours. We'd see each other in Operations signing out our airplane, or in Meteorology seeing what the weather was for that day, but not all at the same time. Maybe you wouldn't see a particular pilot for two or three weeks. Coming back in, it still more spread out. A previous flight had unloaded passengers and the crew had already gone home when you arrived.
As the civil war heated up, we began to fly more and more wholly cargo flights, until toward the end, in Feb, Mar, and April of 1949, we flew mostly military loads except for the evacuation of various cities as they fell to the communists. Those evacuations made good stories like in Peiping (now Beijing) when about a dozen of us C-46's waited for a convoy to come out from the city and the communists brought up some 75 mm's and shelled us as we were loading passengers. One of them came close enough to blow dirt all over my plane. By that time we had all our evacuees on board and were taxiing at slow speed. We had to take off in the direction from which the shells were being fired. Keep it down below 50 Ft and you're past them before they know it. I used to do that with the Japs, but had 10-50 cal. guns stirring them up with my B-24 (PB4Y-1).
There were several cities that were considered important enough to try to sustain them by flying shuttles into them similar to your Hump. The most memorable was Taiyuan (about 250 mi S.E. of Peking) (China is now launching orbital space flights out of Taiyuan). It had big steel mills and machine shops. There was coal and iron ore in close proximity and they could turn out finished locomotive parts with what they could dig out of the mountains and process. I carried quite a number of loads of those crated parts out of there. In 1947, when I first started flying into Taiyuan, CAT (Chennault's airline) was flying in relief supplies including canned milk. Since the Chinese do not drink milk (except Mare's milk for sick babies) this canned milk flowed through the black market and was shipped out to Shanghai on CNAC to support our Americans use in coffee and cereal. Then we flew out quite a number of Japanese and their families who were technicians and engineers who supervised the mines and mills, and machine shops and were being repatriated to Japan. Taiyuan was in a rather small valley and the railroad to Peking had been cut by the communists just about as soon as the Japs pulled out. There were frequently very strong cross winds. One time Tom Nawling and I fought our way in there with C-46's and the wind was blowing like a bastard. 90° when we got out, we speculated on using a 45° cross runway that would be only 45° out so we paced it off. It was only 2500 feet so we decided to use the regular 5000 ft runway. We started our runs with only the upwind engine. I think I went first. Holding the wheels on the concrete until I had plenty of airspeed, I lifted off (empty plane) and immediately went down that runway crabbing at a god awful angle while gradually bringing up power on that downwind engine. I've made single engine landings in training but that's the only time I made a single engine take off. Nawling followed me and we both were happy not to do that very often. -- Awhile later there were eight or ten of us (all C-46's) from CNAC, CATC and CAT airlines on the ground at Taiyuan when around the field came a CAF P-40. They had rather narrow landing gear and in that cross wind we all knew that Chinese pilot was going to wrap it up in a ball. Around he came while we all crossed our arms and stood by waiting for the inevitable crash. That guy came down and completed his roll out without straying a nickel's worth from the center line while we all figuratively ate crow. He was darn good. - Since they didn't have any brass at Taiyuan, I flew several trips with maximum (12,000 pounds of brass) gross and just a few long brass bars to make the bearings in the heavy machinery parts.
A couple of the most dangerous trips I ever flew were to bring some old moldy dynamite from Kunming to Taiyuan. The stuff was left over from WWII and possibly had been frozen. Dynamite being a mixture of nitroglycerin in Fullers Earth must stay mixed or it becomes dangerous. This stuff had yellowed the wooden boxes it came in indicating the nitro had leached out of the Fuller's Earth probably from being cold. This was pretty late in the war and the communists had overrun our regular airfield. We were reduced to a fighter strip which had been laid in a box canyon, fairly long, but too narrow to make a pull up. I had to take those loads of lousy dynamite (two loads about a week apart) up that canyon. Being damn careful not to overshoot or come in too low or make a bumpy landing, it was quite a sweat. -Earlier we had flown several dozen loads of TNT into Taiyuan. The guys were a little itchy worrying about what would happen if one of those rifle bullets the commies were always shooting at us hit that TNT. One of our mechanics, Jack Folty, was an expert with the 45 cal automatic and he shot a couple of holes into blocks (about like a 1 quart milk carton) while we (us pilots) peeped around corners or hid behind trees. After that we didn't worry about TNT. -I see by the papers that fifty years later, Taiyuan is an important spot in the Chinese missile and space programs. I was going to write a little about some of our other shuttles; to Mukden, Manchuria, to Sian (now Xian), and other spots, but this is getting too long. I'm saving that for another letter, later.
The Hump had its problems, but it was mainly weather, and you were flying from Dinjan to Kunming and back so you got to know your route real well. We were all over the map (such as the maps were). For several months, right after the end of WWII, the US Army operated several B-17's at high altitude to take trimetrogen coverage of almost all of China but we got some of those new maps only months before the commies kicked us out. We had the weather and terrain of a third of a continent to try to learn and understand, plus the communists for entertainment. --More later--
*Black Christmas (1946), so called because five airplanes crashed at Shanghai killing over a hundred passengers when fog moved in late in the afternoon and it was already dark at their departure points. There were no alternates and the planes couldn't turn around and go back. One plane flown in by Joe Michiels, made a safe GCA (Ground Controlled Approach or "Talk-down") landing at Kiangwan.