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   Vol. 14  No. 21
Monday March 9, 2015

Legend Of CNAC

CNAC SignChina National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), in existence from, 1929–1949 moved from uncertain beginnings to remarkable successes as Asia’s first sustained commercial airline.
     Originally established as China Airways by Curtiss-Wright under the leadership of U.S. airline magnate Clement Melville Keys, in 1933, after a series of disastrous accidents and disagreements with Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, Keys sold the company to Pan American Airways, which operated the airline until 1949.
     For two decades CNAC pioneered air operations over much of the world’s most challenging terrains, including a route system over the Himalayas, a notorious area between India and China known as “the Hump.” Daring to fly at extreme altitudes through all types of harsh weather conditions, the skilled and adventurous pilots of CNAC established an aerial lifeline to China.
     The company’s achievements occurred in the midst of—and were dramatically influenced by— a period of continuous political upheaval and wartime conditions throughout the region.

CNAC photos

The Story Of The DC-2 and a Half

CNAC Captains     Of all the stories we like to tell about China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), our favorite goes back to the spring of 1941, when a CNAC DC-3 was flying schedules between Hong Kong and Chungking and received word by radio that Japanese fighters were in the area.
     The pilot hurriedly set the aircraft down in a field near Kiuchuan and the crew sprinted for cover.
     Moments later, a flight of Japanese Zeroes swooped down and sprayed the DC-3 with machine gun fire.
     When the shooting was over, the plane's fuselage was riddled with bullet holes, and one wing had been completely blasted off.
     The plane's captain, H.L. Woods, radioed back to the CNAC base. “The plane's a wreck,” Woods reported, “but if we can get a new wing, I think I can fly her out of here.”
     Captain Charlie Sharp, an American pilot flying for the CNAC, takes the story from there:
     “The hell of it was, we didn't have a spare DC-3 wing, and we didn't know where to get one.
     “We did, however, have a spare DC-2 wing. It was five feet shorter, and it wasn't designed to support the loads of the DC-3—but we thought it just might work.”
     So they bolted the DC-2 wing to another DC-3’s underbelly and flew it above the 900 miles of mountainous terrain to Kiuchuan. Like a salamander regrowing a limb, one side was comically shorter than the other. They called her the DC-2.
Loening      Later, an actual DC-2 flew in a replacement wing strapped beneath the fuselage of the airliner and the aircraft was a DC-3 once again.
     This air-freight arrangement was used several times later in the war to salvage downed aircraft.CNAC’s personnel continuously operated and adapted its air services during civil war, invasion, occupation, world war, and revolution.
     In opening the skies over China and beyond as a carrier of passengers, airmail, and cargo, CNAC became an important strategic asset during a time of great conflict.
     CNAC was visionary in its innovative solutions, fortitude, and resourcefulness.
     At its inception, against what must have seemed almost insurmountable odds, the men and women of CNAC pushed the power of air transport to its very limits in the service of others.

Moon Fun ChinSaga Of Moon Fun Chin

     One of CNAC’s first Chinese pilots and most engaging characters, pilot Moon Fun Chin, remains relatively unknown and barely remembered today. Capt. Chin (still with us) was responsible for evacuating Jimmy Doolittle from China after his historic “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” raid in 1942.
     According to Smithsonian historian Greg Crouch, “the apparently unflappable Chin told a skeptical Doolittle to relax and ride as a passenger, as he stuffed the last of 66 other passengers onto the same CNAC flight:
     ‘Calm down Major.
     ‘I, Moon Chin, know how much people a DC-3 can carry, and this one can carry sixty-six.’
     And as it happens, Chin didn't know he had six others riding as stowaways in the tail,” but the plane made it out of harm’s way, and within a few weeks Doolittle was in the Oval Office receiving The Congressional Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
     The legend of the China National Aviation Corporation continues to inspire.
     Currently there is an excellent and sentimental retrospective of CNAC on display at the San Francisco Museum through April 15, 2015.
     Today CNAC is a fully owned subsidiary of the state-owned aviation holding company China National Aviation Holding in the People's Republic of China, possessing a majority of Air China and Air Macau.
     But that is another story altogether . . .

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