Archive for February, 2013

CNAC

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Formed in 1929 by the Chinese government and the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) distinguished itself as the “first to fly the Hump” delivering essential supplies and personnel to US forces and allies in the China-Burma-India Theater. In 1933 the US stake was transferred to Pan American Airways.

CNAC headquartered in Shanghai until mid-1937 when the Japanese invaded China. Next it based in Hong Kong until after the attack on Pearl Harbor when Hong Kong also was occupied by the Japanese. From 1942 through 1945 Calcutta became CNAC’s principal base of operations. The headquarters returned to Shanghai early in 1946 and remained there until the Communist takeover in 1949.

CNAC gained stature among Chinese for its transport of personnel and supplies to and from various Flying Tiger bases. After July 4, 1942, when the Flying Tigers disbanded, many Tiger pilots joined CNAC. Flying 150 hours a month in unarmed C-47 transports without modern navigational aides, these pilots sought cloudy weather or flew at night to avoid Japanese fighter planes. From April 1942, when the Burma Road was lost, to August 1945, CNAC crews made more than 38,000 trips over the Hump, transporting approximately 114,500 tons of people and supplies.

Our DC-3, N877MG, began its story in Long Beach as one of 300 C-47Bs manufactured specifically for CNAC service over the Hump. While the C-47 (military version) and DC-3 (civilian version) normally have two tanks inboard of each engine, the CNAC version allowed installation of a third “long range” tank outboard each engine. Beginning on August 16, 1944, N877MG was flown to Miami, then Calcutta; painted in the livery of CNAC aircraft no. 100; and entered service over the Hump. Today it is the only known, airworthy survivor of CNAC service.

July 1, 1933

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

A two-paragraph letter dated August 2, 1932, addressed to Mr. Donald Wills Douglas, caught the attention of office staff. As a secretary presented the stack of routine correspondence, she said “There is one letter you might be happy to see. It’s from your old friend, Jack Frye.” Into the “In” box it went.

Jack Frye, then vice-president in charge of operations for Trans Continental and Western Air, Inc., wondered if Douglas might build an all metal tri-motor monoplane with a maximum gross weight of 14,200 pounds, a fuel capacity for a cruising range of 1,000 miles at 150 miles per hour, and able to carry a crew of two and at least 12 passengers. Douglas read the letter twice, then asked his secretary to summon his top engineers.

Several years prior a Fokker tri-motor had crashed due to failure of a wooden spar, marking the end of the wood and fabric era for commercial operations. Boeing had introduced its sleek, all-metal model 247, but wouldn’t sell it to customers other than United Airlines, then an affiliate. The competition needed a plane with which to compete.

The Douglas engineers silently entered the office of Mr. Douglas. They were not often called there. Each was allowed to read the letter in silence as it was passed around the circle. One by one, they gave their views. Their consensus was no airplane in the world could meet the specifications. Douglas agreed. But he challenged his engineers. There were features of several aircraft that when combined, could achieve the desired result. Douglas allowed two weeks’ preparation for a presentation at the TWA office in New York.

Harry Wetzel, the general manager, and Arthur Raymond, the deputy chief engineer, continued calculations as they boarded the train. Mr. Frye of TWA concluded that “you have stuff here we haven’t heard of yet.” A Northrup wing with engines Wright was working on, an “automatic pilot,” and variable pitch propellers were important elements of his leap of faith. On behalf of TWA, he authorized a prototype of Douglas Commercial – 1st Model, or the DC-1. The date for first flight was set. July 1, 1933.