Fleeing Shanghai, August 1937: one DC-2 gets wrecked & Moon Chin saves another

China's WingsBuilding on the “Fleeing Shanghai” series of China’s Wings outtakes I’ve been posting, which detail what happened to the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) and its people at the outbreak of the Battle of Shanghai in mid-August 1937. This one adds to the “Tensions in the partnership” episode I added last week. This probably took place on 18 or 19 August, 1937:

Moon Chin found himself alone at the Hankow airfield. The Caucasian pilots had vanished. Moon ran across Joe Chen, one of the Stinson copilots, and Joe Chen was equally confused. Two of CNAC’s four DC-2s sat idle on the airstrip, along with two Stinsons and Donald Wong’s “Tin Goose” Ford. No one in operations knew where the other pilots had gone. Havelick had taken the third DC-2 to Canton on Bixby’s orders. Moon Chin suspected Havelick had a planeload of Americans on board.

Moon Chin wasn’t checked out to captain a DC-2, but he’d been copilot on CNAC’s first DC-2 crew, and he’d flown several hundred hours in the plane. The Japanese would swarm to attack if they discovered the DC-2s, and on the ground, they’d be easy targets. Moon Chin had never flown one alone, but who was going to examine his credentials and grant permissions in such times? Moon climbed into the cockpit of the newest one, spooled up the engines, and took off, racing east for Chungking, safe beyond the Yangtze Gorges.

A DC-2 in Pan Am livery
A DC-2 in Pan Am livery

Joe Chen followed Moon Chin’s example. Stinsons were expendable; DC-2s were not. Joe Chen had done copilot time in the DC-2, but not much, and he hadn’t checked out as captain in any airplane – he’d failed his most recent check ride. Chen got the big transport running, and moving, but just as he lifted off the airfield one of his wheels smacked against a Socony fuel trailer. Chen got the sturdy Douglas into the air despite the hefty bump, and he prepared to follow Moon Chin westward, but he had second thoughts. He thought he’d damaged the undercarriage, and the airline had repair facilities in Hankow and none in Chungking. Chen circled back. He lined up an approach and began his descent. He put the fuel mixture controls in the TAKE OFF AND CLIMB position, set the carburetor air controls to COLD, and checked the magnetos and hydraulic pressure. Chen reduced speed, lowered the flaps, and advanced the propeller pitch. Chen concentrated on the airfield and eased down the glide slope. He cut his speed to under a hundred miles per hour and bled off the last few hundred feet of altitude. It was a perfect approach. Chen flared to land, kept the nose up, and eased the plane onto the field. There was a horrible pause, devoid of the bump and kiss of a happy landing. Chen had forgotten to lower the undercarriage. The 14,729-pound[1] airplane fell the last twelve feet to the runway. The props struck first, ripped from their shafts, and windmilled past the cockpit. A wing snapped off outboard of the engine. The aluminum underside peeled open and dredged a furrow down the runway. Both engine nacelles broke off and bumped under the wing. The plane swerved to a stop.  The propellers leapt across the field, slowing and wobbling and toppling into the weeds beside the runway. The plane was wrecked, but it didn’t burn. Chen was unharmed.

Moon Chin winged up the Yangtze Gorges in the other DC-2. A thirty-foot head of midsummer floodwater submerged CNAC’s sandbar airstrip in the river below Chungking. Moon landed at the military airstrip twelve miles east of the city.

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China's WingsSources for this anecdote: author’s interviews with Moon Chin, September 17, 2004, January 7, 2005, April 19, 2006; Bixby to Morgan, August 25, 1937, written aboard the S.S. President Pierce en route to Hong Kong; Bond to Kitsi, written in Hong Kong, August 28, 1937; both letters in the Bond Papers.

Next in this series is “Moon Chin’s wife cheats death escaping Shanghai

[1] The DC-2’s empty weight. Chen’s plane would have weighed more considering the fuel aboard.



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