WILLIAM G. HELLING (1922 - 2013)

(CNAC 1944 - 1945)
(Captain - 1944)
(Hump Flights - 107)

In the 1943-45 log book of Don McBride, Bill listed his address as:

William G. Helling
539 So. Clementine St.
Anaheim, Calif

The CNAC Web Editor would like to thank Bill for sharing the following information and pictures. Thanks Bill!

The following is my bio sent recently to Monumental Productions.
Thanks a lot, Bill.

William G. Helling
6160 Perfect View
Colorado Springs, CO 80919

July 19, 1999

Monumental Productions
P.O. Box 1946
Everett, WA 98206
From: CNAC Captain William (Bill) Helling

I will use your outline asking for information and attempt to answer as many questions as I can.

... Early flight training was at Santa Ana College CPT program in Santa Ana, California in 1941 and ending in early Spring 1942. All flights were from Orange County Airport, now known as John Wayne Airport.

... Upon completion of primary and secondary training a number of us were recruited by the Army Air Corps and pulled from school. We were sent to 29 Palms, California in April 1942, given training in gliders and became glider instructors. This was the first glider school in the U.S. and we trained the first glider pilots who later participated in the invasions of Burma, North Africa and the big one, Normandy. During this time we were inducted into the Army Air Corps Reserve which exempted us from Selective Service but held us until they were through with us.

William Helling, Flight Instructor
29 Palms, California - 1942

... After the glider program was completed in 1943, we stayed on at 29 Palms which then became a Primary Flight School for the Air Corps. I instructed cadets until September, 1944 at which time I was released from that duty and given permission to seek employment with any contract air carrier. I had offers from American Airlines and TWA, however, I had heard of the CNAC program so I signed with them in October 1944 to go to India. At that time I was 22 years old, single and a free spirit. India seemed more exciting than flying domestic airlines in this country.

William Helling, Flight Instructor
29 Palms, California - 1943

... Obtained my instrument rating in November and in December, 1943 went to Florida and caught an ATC (Air Transport Command) flight which went to the Azores, North Africa, Iran, Karachi and Calcutta, early January, 1944. Four of us, Dill, Anderson, McCaleb and Helling traveled together and arrived at Dum Dum Aerodrome to begin our training. All of us became Captains several months later. We were billeted at Dum Dum and trained in C-47's to prepare us for Co-pilot duties.

Miami in December of 1943
left side front to back:
Dean Anderson and his wife Jean, an unidentified lady and William Dill.
right side front to back:
Bob and Thelma McCaleb, and Bill Helling.

... My first flight across the hump was with Captain Bill Bartling, a former AVG ace who was very familiar with the hump routes. Going to Kunming was called the "Easy Course", return was called the "Charley Course." Most of the Captains I flew with worked hard to give proper training so I could check out as Captain; namely, Bartling, Shilling, DuVze, McBride, Moore, Boyd, Farrell, Weiner and Bussart. All of my early flights over the hump were in the C-47 air plane which was the most reliable, easy handling airplane in the world. It could stand incredible turbulence and when the wings loaded with ice it would "waller" through with little or no problem. The props would build up ice and throw big chunks into the side of the fuselage and it would keep right on flying. Of course the wing de-icers and the prop de-icers had to be turned on at exactly the right time of the buildup. Day flying, this was no problem but at night we had to open the cockpit window and turn a flashlight on the wings to determine when to activate the de-icer boot. After the war Eisenhower said "the three best weapons during the war were the jeep, the C-47 and the landing craft." Later in 1945 all of us checked out in the C-46, the largest twin engine aircraft in the Air Corps inventory. It would carry a tremendous load and was aerodynamically advanced for much more speed. The high performance wing, however, was not a good performer in icing conditions. Early detection was a must or you could lose 2000' quickly. As one of our pilots exclaimed after a C-46 flight "I would rather have a load of live snakes, loose on board than ice on the wings!"

... Our cargoes were varied, a full load to Kunming and usually a half load on return. Most of my flights the load was drums of 100 octane gasoline. Sometimes, a load of CNC, Chinese National Currency, in millions and millions of dollars of paper money. Inflation was rampant and we never knew how much the money was worth in dollars. In India the rupee was worth about 33 cents or 3 for a dollar. Easy figuring.

... On occasion, some of the planes were loaded with bars of gold from Ft. Knox. The planes were loaded in Calcutta under guard, with a million dollars worth on each plane. Then to Dinjan, refuel, to Kunming, refuel and then to Chunking. This was done with several crew changes. We used to fantasize about how we could highjack a load, bury it in India, wait 20 years then go back and get it. We could never figure a fool proof way to do it however.

... All of my flights as Captain were with Chinese co-pilots. We were supposed to teach them to fly but it was really too risky for "on the job training". They did "gear up and down" and "flaps up and down" upon command, that was it. They spoke little English and we spoke no Chinese. The co-pilots and radio operators were quite adept at smuggling and we had to watch them constantly. On one flight I ran my pre-start inspection, checked the cargo, looked every where for contraband and found nothing. I sat down in the left seat and checked the controls for freedom of movement. Nothing would move, ailerons, elevators, rudder, all locked. I pulled open the cable inspection door in the floor between the seats and found about six cartons of cigarettes jammed in between the control cables. The airplane wouldn't fly in that condition . I gave them five minutes to get the cigarettes out of there and off the airplane.

... After completing my co-pilot period I checked out as Captain and my pay went up considerably. I moved from Dum Dum to a nice residential area in Calcutta with three other pilots, Charlie Sharkey, "Toad" Morgan and Kenehan. It was a three bedroom flat with baths and dining room, (the cook prepared the meals in the kitchen over the garage). We had a chief bearer, a second bearer, a couple who were cooks and two sweepers. We split all expenses four ways and were quite comfortable. Of course, we were there only a few days each month, mostly two at a time. Days off I spent considerable time playing tennis at several clubs in Calcutta. One of our Vice Presidents kept me busy on the tennis court (all grass or red clay)and it would not have been politic to not play with him and Capt. Dave Majors. I was single, unattached so I had no qualms about dating. There were Army nurses at Calcutta General Hospital and British military "Fannies", nicknamed for their unit, FANY which stood for First Army Nurses Yeomanry. They were terribly British and we enjoyed their company. Our next door neighbor was Brigadier General Bob Neyland of Tennessee foot ball fame who arranged for the CNAC pilots to have PX privileges at the U.S. PX in Calcutta. Also we had privileges at the various officers clubs so we did not want for entertainment.

... One month "Doc" Richards, our company M.D. grounded me for putting in too many hours and I couldn't fly for 10 days, so I went with some other pilots to Darjeeling, Nepal. We went on a train and it was very educational. Darjeeling was an R & R center for the military. I bought a beautiful unset star sapphire stone to give to my future wife when I returned to the states. I hadn't met her yet but it was good long range planning because two years later I found the right girl and had the stone set in a platinum setting with diamonds for an engagement ring. In 1998, we celebrated our 50th anniversary and she still wears that ring. On the Darjeeling trip we saw Mt. Everest and K-2 so you know we were up in the Himalayas.

... Many times in Calcutta I attended the horse races (they ran in the wrong direction). Several of our pilots would go together and try to beat the bookies. To make a bet you had to stand in line and the bookies would accept your bet....give you a slip of paper with the amount and the odds written in hand. Some of our guys went together and bribed all the jockeys in one race and got good odds by making bets at several books at the same time. I was skeptical so I did not participate. The right horse won by 6 lengths thanks to the jockeys who knew how to slow down. My friends made a bundle on that one. I can only describe the pilots who planned this caper as a wild, zany bunch. Because of these rogues all the younger pilots (I was the youngest, I think) had to watch our wallets and our girl friends at all times.


1. My check ride with the chief pilot in order to become a Captain. Captain Pottschmidt put me under the hood on take-off from Dinjan and 3 hours and 45 minutes later after an instrument let-down at Kunming he raised the hood for landing. No auto pilot, all hand flying. After a one hour turn around he did the same thing on the return flight to Dinjan for 3 hours, 30 minutes. Better than 7 hours hand flying on instruments and I was bushed but I was a Captain. I found out later that he did that to all prospective Captains.

2. As a Co-pilot I had several trips with Captain McBride who was very helpful in my training. One night we left Kunming to return to Dinjan. He was in the left seat. About 15 minutes after take off our left engine burst into flames. He yelled "pull the fire extinguisher" and he feathered the engine. I pulled open the trap door to reach the extinguisher handle, grabbed it (I felt a surge of adrenaline) and pulled the handle, cable and all right out of the floor....with my left hand (I'm right handed). The extinguisher did not operate so the fire did not go out. McBride turned us around. We called in "Mayday" to Kunming and made a straight in approach and landed burning, followed by a hasty exit. I saved the extinguisher cable and handle for the head of maintenance at Dinjan. He said that it was impossible to break that cable. "No one is that strong" he said. "Yeah,....right" I replied.

3. One very memorable trip was as co-pilot with Capt Bartling. We left Kunming with a load of supplies and mail for the Americans stationed at Lekiang Mountain, way up north of our Charley Course. Only Senior pilots with American co-pilots made this trip. The mountain is close to 20,000 feet high and the airstrip was at 11,000'. The American G.I.'s were stationed there to maintain a navigation beacon which aided the hump pilots. At 11,000' on the mountain side the winds were quite violent and approaches and landings took exceptional skill. This was evidenced by the dozen or so crashed airplanes that were visible as we made our final approach to a grass runway. We had to make two passes but we made it O.K., to the cheers of the group on the ground....we had their mail. We were treated like heroes for about an hour. Talk about isolated duty,....these men had it. They had been there for a year and hoped they would not be forgotten when the war ended. Flying out empty was easy, then back to Dinjan.

4. After a normal flight, Dinjan to Kunming I was anticipating a turn around when five Captains were notified of an emergency at Nanning, down near South Indo-China. A squadron of P-51's stationed there was out of gas and needed to make an attack on an advancing Japanese army. We loaded an absolute maximum weight of 50 gal drums on five C-47's and took off immediately. Our orders were: "deliver all but one drum which you will put back in your own tanks and get out of there." Each pilot used up all, and I mean all of the Kunming runway with this overload. The lake at the south end of the field saved us because we could climb out over the lake and get to altitude before heading to Nanning. We managed to find the airport, (none of us had ever been there) and while we were having the planes unloaded, the gas was being pumped into the P-51's and they were taking off for their attack. We made a record turn around and all five of us did a Chandelle off the runway and we found our way back to Kunming late that night. I heard later that the P-51's did their job and clobbered the Japs.

(WEB EDITOR'S NOTE: chandelle - an abrupt climbing turn of an airplane in which the momentum of the plane is used to attain a higher rate of climb. For a more detailed discription of a chandelle and other aerobatic maneuvers, click here.)

5. Occasionally we were scheduled to fly to a place called Suifu (pronounced "Suwee-foo" but the pilots called "Sway-foo). Suifu was well north of the Charley Course, in fact it was too far north to be on my flight map. We went there on a return flight from Kunming. The airport was outside the small village and we never went into town, just land, unload, re-load and head back to Dinjan. One of the Captains remarked that the annual siege of the village by Chinese bandits was taking place so "fly over town and and watch the action." Each year the bandits would charge the walled village, put it under siege, break in and pillage. They also stole the women and headed back up into the mountains. On my next return from Suifu I took off and flew over town. It was like a movie from medieval times. Villagers were on top of the wall throwing rocks and shooting at the bandits and the bandits were trying to scale the wall and ram the gate. I wished I'd taken a picture of that action.

6. The flight that is riveted in my memory started in Dinjan on August 6, 1945. It was required that occasionally after a number of trips across the hump that the newer Captains take one trip with another Captain to check procedures, etc. I was scheduled to fly with Capt. Bob McCaleb, a close friend. I would fly to Kunming and he would fly back to Dinjan, each would get credit for 1/2 trip. As soon as we cleared the first ridge, we tuned into Armed Services Radio and listened to good ol' stateside music. Bob dozed off with his headset in place and I flew the airplane with my headset on. A voice boomed through on the radio...."We interrupt this broadcast for a news bulletin: President Truman has announced that we have dropped a bomb on Hiroshima with the destructive force of 20,000 tons of T.N.T. More details will be forthcoming." Both of us came alive and yelled "We're going home!" We made a speedy run to Kunming and the place was jumping. We made a quick turn around and a speedy run back to Dinjan. A lot of beer flowed in our rec room that night. As it turned out, we both stayed until December because there was still much to be done. Then five CNAC employees, including me, booked passage on a Victory ship heading from Calcutta to New York. We were very surprised at how easy it was to find a ride home. When we were two days out the captain told us that the entire hold of the ship was loaded with ammunition being shipped back to the states. No one else wanted to board that one. The ships captain kept a 24 hour watch on the bow of the ship looking for mines. We were given a lot of leeway by other ships and when we arrived at the entrance to the Suez Canal the other ships moved out of the way and we went right through. When we reached the Mediterranean we turned left and went to Charleston, South Carolina, 30 days on a ship. The food was good, the weather was bad in the Atlantic and everyone got seasick, but we made it. Arrived home in January 1946. I was offered a 3 year contract to return to CNAC in Shanghai but decided to finish my last two years of college at U.C.L.A First I took a year off and moved to Las Vegas where I worked in an architect's office that designed the Flamingo Hotel for Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel. Ben offered me a job as his personal pilot so he could get back and forth between Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago. I accepted his offer but before he got around to buying an airplane, someone shot him. Naturally, I got out of my agreement and enrolled at U.C.L.A. I finished college, got married, worked 10 years at North American Aviation in Inglewood, California. I worked with many of the biggies in aviation, test pilots, engineers, etc. and became assistant to the president. North American built more airplanes than any other company during the war. In 1960 I moved to Colorado with my wife and three children and never looked back. We are still in Colorado after forty years.

6. Those that stayed on with CNAC and went to Shanghai got caught in the China war between the Nationalists and the Communists. Several of my very close friends died in crashes....Capt. Tud Tarbet, Capt Charley Sharkey, Capt Dean Anderson, Capt Andy Longbotham. Our efforts during the war, I thought, played a major role in preventing the Japanese from capturing Burma and probably India. For myself, I spent four full years doing what the government asked. I taught many of the glider pilots who went into the real battles in a number of places. One of my students flew a glider load into France, fought his way back to England and took another load into France....two trips and lived through it. Every single one of my students, both glider and Aviation Cadets, graduated and earned their wings and saw combat. Not one wash out in two years of classes. When the training program died I could have spent the rest of the war flying for a domestic airline but I chose to risk it and go get in the war. There were many of us in that boat that signed on with CNAC and I am pleased that someone will be telling the story from first hand accounts.

In summation, the best description of CNAC and its pilots was written in Ernie K. Gann's book "The Flying Circus". I made copies of this and have enclosed same for your perusal. That chapter in his book told of the early days of CNAC and has a picture of an early Junkers F-52, which is also enclosed. My opinion of the group was that the pilots had three things in common. (1) They could FLY...(2) Money and (3) Ladies. The support employees were excellent, from operations to Link Trainers to the commissary and especially the aircraft maintenance crews, many of whom came over from Pan American Airways....outstanding. Also, kudos to the Chinese girls in the office in Calcutta who figured our flight hours and monthly pay checks on an abacus in about one minute and it was always correct. They also liked to go out on dates. It was forbidden by company rules but we did it, anyway. I met a young ex-serviceman at UCLA who said he was in China during the war. He had been a control tower operator at Kunming. I said "We probably talked to each other many times....I was a pilot with CNAC." He replied "You were with Seenack?" "Man," he said "You guys really helped make my job easier. I never had to worry about you when we were stacked (instrument approaches because of socked in weather). I'd assign you an altitude and five minutes later you would report in "I'm Contact (I can see the field)" and get permission to land. I asked if he wanted to know how we did it and and said "No, I didn't know then and I don't want to know now. You guys were real pros."

I guess that just about says it all.

January 2, 2014

Dear Tom,

I just wanted you to know that my father, William G. Helling, died on Thanksgiving Day. He was 91 years old. The stories that he wrote for your website are among our most treasured things that he left behind. Thank you for doing the beautiful site. I wrote a long and detailed obituary for our family members, as we are scattered all over Europe and the US, and then added the CNAC stories to them. Everyone loved their package of stories and will make it part of our family’s history.

I hope all is well with you.

Happy New Year and please know how much your work is deeply valued! Sincerely,
Jan Helling Croteau
New Hampshire

If you would like to share any information about William Helling
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Background music to this
page can be controlled here.
At Bill's request, here is
"I Can't Get Started" by Bunny Berigan (1938)
<bgsound src="i_cant_get_started_02.mp3" loop=infinite>

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