William Bond didn’t have any airline experience AT ALL when he arrived in China in 1931. None. Up to that point, he’d been a construction foreman. As such, he was very dependent on the professional aviators already engaged by the airline. The two most crucial were Ernie “Allie” Allison, his chief pilot, and his chief mechanic, O.C. Wilke.
I never had the opportunity to meet either man, but both of their daughters have been a tremendous help in the creation of China’s Wings.
Allie’s daughter, Nancy Allison Wright (who was born during the airline’s darkest time in 1937), granted me unfettered access to the trove of her father’s CNAC-related letters and photographs, and through the years, we enjoyed much fruitful conversation and email correspondence. She was working on her own book about her father, and it has just been published.
I found Shirley Wilke Mosley, daughter of the chief mechanic, to be equally delightful, and as I explained earlier in this blog, a day I spent with her soon after I committed to this project really opened my eyes to the full glory of CNAC’s story before Pearl Harbor. Here’re the two links: something-more-substantial and the-most-exciting-undertaking. Seven-year old Shirley, wearing her prettiest flower print dress, makes a cameo appearance in China’s Wings, at the airline’s gala celebrating the arrival of its first DC-2 — she remembers being amazed that she could stand upright under the wing of an airplane so enormous.)
Ernie Allison was one of aviation’s true pioneers. In 1931, he already had 14 years of flying experience and more than 8,000 hours of flight time. He’d been flying since 1917. He’d flown patrols along the Mexican border and instructed for the Army Flying Service during the World War and barnstormed around Philadelphia after demobilization. In 1920, he joined the United States Post Office’s fledgling airmail service, and Allison flew the airmail for seven years, pioneering air commerce and night flying alongside another young, then-obscure aviator named Charles Augustus Lindberg. Allison had been President of the American Pilot’s Association, and Lindberg was carrying a membership card signed by Allison when he flew the Atlantic in 1927. Allie and Bond were about the same age and height, but Allie was a much more powerfully built, formidable-looking man. Allie had a toothbrush mustache, a gruff bark, and although he was a pleasant, good-humored man away from the airport, on-duty, his pilots seldom saw him smile.
Bond quickly came to appreciate Allison one of the best, safest, most dependable aviators in the world.