What it took to keep ’em flying


Building on my post singing the praises of the airline’s mechanics and maintenance personnel, the undersung heroes of my book China’s Wings, here’s a little evidence to chronicle the massively complex logistics of keeping an airline flying.

Chuck Sharp, CNAC Operations Manager

Chuck Sharp, CNAC Operations Manager

On September 30, 1943, Chuck Sharp, Operations Manager of the China National Aviation Corporation, wrote a letter to a Colonel Felton, in the US Army Service of Supply headquarters in New Delhi, discussing the airline’s operation and trying to solve what was, to Sharp, an outrageous Army-caused SNAFU —  the US Army had impounded 420 tons worth of equipment consigned to the airline.

On that date, CNAC had 27 planes, and of those 27 planes, CNAC was keeping 20 constantly in the air. Twenty planes used 325,000 gallons of fuel per month, which had to be divided around the many airfields the airline used. Sharp’s letter discussed engine upgrades, spare parts, shop equipment, hand tools, airplane parts, engine parts from Pratt &Whitney, Wright, Hamilton Propellers, instruments, miscellaneous test equipment, radio ground transmitting stations, Bendix radio parts, and more.

Hand fueling or adding oil to a CNAC DC-3 or C-47

Hand fueling or adding oil to a CNAC DC-3 or C-47

The list of requisitioned aircraft and engine parts ran on for pages…. plugs, pins, bearings, guides, studs, rings, glides, manifolds, caps, pumps, screws, bolts, plungers, braces, locks, washers, nuts, pins, rivets, cotter pins, conduits, collars, wheels, gaskets, hoses, strainers, pulleys, tees, elbows, cables, autopilots, tanks, spacers, landing gear, rods, rubber packing, wire, panels, cylinders, bushings, carburetors, nipples, valves, radios, vibrator absorbers, shackle-releases, propellers, switches, relays, solenoids, grommets, lamps, rudders, doors, batteries, locks, lines, benches, starters, mounts, funnels, cans, grease, alcohol, governors, ammeters, shunts, lamps, cords, blades, thermos, benzene, rubber cement, graphite grease, enamel, acetone, dope, pumps, collars, aluminum, ignition cables, diaphragms, shafts, hubs, crankcases, adapters, impellers, pistons, valves, fuel cells, thermometers, sulphuric acid, magnetos, fairings, locknuts, lugnuts, and more…

On and on the list went… on it was everything necessary for DC-3 type engines, instruments, and airframes, and then the list ran to various shop equipment, food, office sundries, canteen supplies, including eight ¾ ton carryall vehicles, eight 4×4 command cars, twelve 1½ ton trucks, a pair of 2 ½ ton 6×6 tanker trucks, and a dozen jeeps.

In all, the equipment on order was valued at $446,099.63 U.S. dollars (worth more than $5 million modern dollars) and it weighed 420 tons. The Army had impounded the shipment when it arrived in India.

Arthur N. Young, a member of CNAC’s board of directors, had to fly to Dehli to get it released to the company.


The parts list: Sharp to Colonel Felton, September 30, 1943

The Army-impounded shipment and efforts to release it: Arthur N. Young to His Excellency H.H. Kung, September 21, 1943.

Both documents in the Young Papers at the Hoover Institute.

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