Moon Chin’s favorite airplane-the Douglas Dolphin

This continues from the end of the CNAC and the Long March post…

The Douglas Dolphin at Shanghai’s Lunghwa Airport

The importance of the Kweichow/Kunming line faded after the Communist escape, and  Chief Pilot Ernie Allison returned Moon Chin to Shanghai to fly the Douglas Dolphin on Route Three, between Shanghai and Canton. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial engines, each delivering  450 horsepower, the Dolphin had more power than it needed, making it unique among the seaplanes of the day. (Of all the airplanes Moon Chin flew during his career, the Douglas Dolphin is his favorite.)

The maiden flight of CNAC’s first dolphin; over Shanghai in 1934 (Edward P. Howard photo)

The Dolphins’ wings were skinned with plywood, and the nails tended to loosen with the impact of each water landing. One of Moon Chin’s copilot duties was to nonchalantly walk along the wing top after each landing and use his boot heel to discretely shove the nails back into place.[i]

The Dolphin’s biggest flaw was that it had been designed without a water rudder, and Bixby wired Andre Priester, Pan Am’s chief engineer, detailing the oversight and asking for a fix.

Priester cabled that the Douglas Corporation would design one for $2,500 U.S.

To hell with that, thought Bixby. He designed one himself on the back of an envelope, which worked fine, and all it cost CNAC was six Chinese dollars, including installation (worth about $2 U.S.).[ii]

Pan Am tried to lord it over its China subsidiary, but New York didn’t seem to realize that the China flyers were pilots of extraordinary competence who accumulated vast quantities of experience in difficult conditions with little of the operational hand-holding available to pilots in the United States.

[i] Moon Chin’s stories of the Douglas Dolphin: author’s interviews with Moon Chin; Moon Chin Oral History, Louis A. Turpin Aviation Museum.

[ii] Bixby and the Dolphin’s water rudder: 1957 interview with Harold Bixby, the Pan Am Archive, Box 20, Folder 1.


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