A month after Moon Chin’s thirteenth birthday, on May 21 and 22, 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, a feat that catapulted Lindbergh to the absolute apogee of American fame and sparked a mania for everything aviation. Lindbergh stories filled the nation’s newspapers and magazines; the nation hung on his every word. The glamor and romance of the crossing captivated boys all over the land, including one small, industrious, thirteen-year old Chinese-American lad in Baltimore who was so inspired by Lindbergh that he began constructing small balsa wood airplanes. Moon Chin shaped and fitted the spars and ribs with razor blades and sandpaper and carefully glued the pieces together to form the skeleton of the wings, which he covered with lightweight paper shrink-wrapped by steam jetting from a stovetop kettle. Thin bamboo strips framed the fuselages. Moon Chin mail-ordered lightweight aluminum propellers, powered them with fat rubber bands, and flew his models in schoolyards, parks, and empty lots, delighted to watch them climb to altitude and glide back to earth. He wore his fingers raw winding tension into the rubber bands until he discovered how to do it with an egg-beater.
Every aspect of flying fascinated young Moon Chin. It was the most exciting technology of the age, and aviation achievements made constant news as pilots and designers vied to fly further, longer, higher, and faster. Some records lasted a few weeks, some just days, and the flyers were national heroes.Moon Chin dreamed of flight, but he was just a boy. He finished grade school in 1928 and studied auto mechanics at the Baltimore Vocational School for Boys. He finished the course the following year and took a job at a truck repair shop at a wage that barely covered his lunch. A stagnating economy crashed the stock market that autumn, and business slowed, making it increasingly difficult for the truck shop owner to keep Moon Chin on the payroll. Joe Chin and the shop owner decided to return Moon to the vocational school for a second course, but when Moon finished in early 1931, the truck shop was in such dire straits that the owner couldn’t afford to rehire him. Moon Chin cast about for something else to do.
He knew exactly what he wanted to do – he wanted to fly – but his father wouldn’t hear of it. Joe Chin believed in tangible things, hard work. He didn’t favor romantic dreaming. Fatal flying accidents had been a newspaper staple for the last two decades. Moon Chin and his father compromised on aviation mechanics, and Moon took a mechanics’ course at the Curtiss Wright Flying School, located in Cheswolde Community beyond Baltimore’s famed Pimlico Racecourse. Moon was the only Chinese-American of the six students enrolled. He was the only ethnic Chinese who had ever enrolled.
Next: Moon Chin learns to fly