Chuck Sharp is another of the CNAC stalwarts I’d like to introduce. He made his own way to China in 1933 and caught on with CNAC because his 1,000 hours of flight time wasn’t enough to land him a job with a stateside airline. He’d stay with CNAC through the end of the Second World War, rising to become Chief Pilot, and then operations manager — a position he held through all the years on The Hump. Famously ferocious in those years, in the beginning, he hadn’t been that way at all.
A roguish imp from Fort Worth, Texas who the other flyers nicknamed “Apple Dumpling” on account of his plump, dimpled cheeks and relentless pursuit of his next laugh, Sharp had a fiery temper, a tall man’s swagger, and only three things seemed able to hold his interest: they either wore skirts and heels, held cards and cocktails, or had wings and engines.
Sharp joined CNAC in April, 1933, two months after Moon Chin, but he was a few years older, and he brought much more flying experience with him to China and Sharp soon checked out as pilot captain.
In 1934, William Bond and Ernie Allison assigned Moon Chin to copilot Loening Air Yachts on the Yangtze River with Chuck Sharp.
When it was on the water, the Loening Air Yacht rode nose high. Until it had enough speed to “get on the step” (that portion of a flying boat’s takeoff run when it was hydroplaning in flying attitude with its nose level and its hull not quite lifted free of the water), the pilots couldn’t see over the engine unless they were standing on the rudder pedals. Chuck Sharp and Moon Chin were both shorter fellows, however. They couldn’t see over the engine even when they were standing on the pedals. To compensate, Sharp hung his head out left, Moon Chin hung his head out right, and they zigzagged to check the river ahead.
The pair took a Loening upriver one cold autumn day. As scheduled, they stopped at Nanking and continued to Anking, the capital of Anhwei Province, a city that had been wrecked by the Taiping Rebellion sixty years before. Behind the waterfront, much of it still lay in ruins. After landing, Sharp taxied toward CNAC’s 55-gallon mooring barrel anchored in front of the city. Moon Chin climbed onto the lower wing and lay on his belly, ready to catch the rope coiled atop the barrel. The prop wash doused him with spray. Sharp approached the barrel from upstream, traveling with the current, but against a stiff upstream wind. Everything went fine until the wind dropped. The current gave the Loening a sudden jolt of speed. Moon Chin snatched the mooring rope from the barrel top just as it disappeared under the wing, which whacked hard against the barrel. The rope ran out its full length and whipped from Moon’s frozen hands before he had a chance to secure it.
Sharp made a perfect second approach, and Moon Chin secured the flying boat without trouble. Furious with himself, Sharp ducked his head under the wing to check the damage. Barrel impact had broken the tip of the aileron horn, a metal bar poking out of the control surface to which cables were attached to move the aileron. Without a functioning aileron, the plane wouldn’t turn properly in the air, a serious problem. CNAC.’s nearest mechanic was at Hankow, two hundred and fifteen miles upstream, past their next stop at Kiukiang. Sharp rigged a fix with baling wire and a pair of pliers.
Moon Chin eyed the repair with a raised eyebrow.
“If you don’t like it, stay here and I’ll pick you up on the way back tomorrow,” Sharp snapped.
Moon Chin made the flight. They reached Hankow without incident, although the passengers presumably didn’t know they were being steered by baling wire.