I was excited to have Eric Ludwig, grandson of CNAC pilot Sam Belieff, comment on last week’s post about CNAC No. 100, the plane so painstakingly restored by the Historic Flight Foundation in Washington.
In his comment, Eric mentioned that his grandfather told him that the CNAC mechanics had the plane flying again the next day. (The one in the photo to the right.) And although historically, the pilots of the China National Aviation Corporation have garnered the lion’s share of the glory for the airline’s success (as they have in my book, China’s Wings), I feel I ought to acknowledge the miracles worked for twenty years by CNAC’s teams of mechanics and maintenance experts. They labored in difficult and uncomfortable environment conditions in China, Burma, and India, and they always dealt with chronic shortages of supplies and spare parts. Quite simply, none the airline’s astonishing accomplishments would have happened without their talents, expertise, and dedication to duty.
Some of my favorite CNAC stories hinge on the accomplishments of the mechanics, and not all of them made it into the final draft of China’s Wings: salvaging and restoring the Kweilin, the plane in which Hugh Woods was shot down by the Japanese in August, 1938, renaming it and returning it to service only to have it shot down by the Japanese AGAIN, in October, 1940 (pp. 155-171); Chuck Sharp, Zigmund Soldinski, and The Flying Sieve (pp. 265-267); Bond and Ernie Allison flying a Consolidated Commodore with unmatched engines (which isn’t in China’s Wings, but can be found here); mechanic Troy Heine threatening a gang of coolie laborers tearing up a railroad track ahead of the advancing Japanese when Heine needed it to evacuate a dismantled airplane; and, of course, the absolutely classic story of the DC-2 1/2… (pp. 228-231)
Coming soon, I’ll post a list of spare parts requisitioned by the airline in 1943 to give some idea of what it took to keep the airplanes flying during its years on the Hump, and I’ll see if I can find the Troy Heine story in one of my old drafts…