After reading the headline on the cover of an American national magazine recently, re-the "rated" and "underrated" aircraft pilots, I decided to write about one incident that happened to me, as I was for 15+ years a young -- "yesteryear" and "underrated" ("unheralded") pilot.
Before WW II, I ferried mostly "lend lease" planes, for the British Government throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where I was when President Roosevelt announced, over the radio, re-the bombing of "Pearl Harbor" and "The Day of Infamy", and the start-up of WW II.
(As a 2nd thought, I decided to name the flying-jobs that I had, so if there are other pilots reading this, they might empathize.)
I ferried British and American planes from factories to squadrons, squadrons to maintenance units, across the North Atlantic Ocean from Canada to Scotland. I was the Captain-pilot who stopped over in Gander, Newfoundland, for fuel as I was ferrying a B-25 “Turbanlight” plane to Scotland and who grounded all the “Turbanlight” b-25s used in squadrons all over the world, because of the poor job done on the plane’s exhaust (finger-stacks) systems. Later, I transferred to their Nassau, Bahamas Base and ferried planes across the South Atlantic Ocean to Scotland via Africa.
One time in flying along the coast of Africa, I passed by a meeting of the heads of countries called “Yalta” in Marrakech, Morocco. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin were among those in attendance.
Then, for awhile, I was a production-test-co-pilot for the Consolidated-Vultee Company, dominantly on B-24s. Later, I transferred to their newly established airline, Consairways, flying as co-pilot on their B-24s, which only flew hi-priority passengers and cargo to and from the Fairfield, Suisun Air Base in California to San Francisco to Hawaii, Canton, Fiji, New Caledonia and Brisbane, Australia, and back via Nanumea, a couple hundred miles from the island where Amelia Earhart was reportedly, recently found alive. Then I flew the "hump". Later, was co-pilot with National Airlines around Florida, a Venezuelan Ranch’s meat hauling pilot. An executive-pilot for a Venezuelan oil company – taking their passengers to and from their oil rig. Lastly, aerial photo pilot for the Venezuelan Government.
All in all, about 52 different types and marks of planes were flown, both British and American made. All gave me about 2000 hours of flying-time. Not many hours these days.
It should be mentioned that there is no more “hump”, as the modern airline planes, flying over the same area, fly too high.
First I should write about the life that we “Hump Flyers” had. We all lived in a large hut on a “tea plantation” near what was called “Dinjan”, the upper Assam Valley of India, and we flew from that base to and from Kunming, China (mostly), via the ”Naga Hills” and Burma, every day and into the nights.
We pilots and crews flew for the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC). Chiang Kai Shek ran Nationalist China, which owned 80% of CNAC. PAA, which put in the radio/navigational equipment all over the “hump”, owned the remaining 20%.
Mostly we flew C-47s and C-46s -- We flew cargo or workers – or both. Much of our cargo were bales of paper Chinese “yen” made in the USA for the Chinese, as they had a tremendous money problem then. Upon many of our return trips, we had “hog bristles” as cargo. The hog bristles are the “brushes” part of paint brushes.
It might be mentioned, that anytime a plane did not return to base, after a time, the plane and crew were figured to be “gone”, crashed either in the wild Chinese or Burmese jungle or in the mountains, where there was 6 to 9 feet deep snow, and it was deemed that none of the planes could be found, nor could the crews. Apparently, the management had tried several times to no avail, and finally, it was deemed to be impossible to find anyone, alive or dead!
My wife and oldest son lived in Liberty, MO then, and since she got one of her letters back – stamped “DECEASED” on her envelope – causing her to go to bed for a day or so, but she got one from me, quickly, though, and realized that I was not “DECEASED”!
Now! To finally write about my “bail out” incident over the Burmese Jungle, while I was flying for CNAC. This is one episode that happened to me and my crew that I’d like to share.
My plane (C-47) and crew of a radio operator (only) were about to return to our base in India, from Kunming (empty of cargo), when a nearby based USA service man asked me if he could go back with us, as he wanted to get even part-way in India for some R&R in Calcutta. Well, I agreed to take him, but I told him that he must borrow a parachute, as we had only 2 on board of our airplane, and if we had to bail-out I couldn’t leave him. After a bit of convincing, I told him that I’d wait for an hour for his return. He did and with a parachute! And he became my co-pilot.
Well, we took-off and lo and behold we were about 60 minutes enroute to India and the plane caught fire (not from gun-fire), and we three bailed-out of the plane, over the Burmese Jungle. On the way floating down, I yelled at the other two floating down, near by, we just passed over the Irrawaddy River and met me at the river. Later, when we met, they told me that they did not hear me. I found out later then, that always, one’s voice must bounce-off something, for another person to hear, no matter how close.
Well, I landed in a tree, released my parachute, and fell to the ground – not a very far fall. I saw a path in the distance, heading toward the Irrawaddy River, which flowed south, and on which and farther south, was the U.S. Airbase at a town called Myitkina, Burma. We always called it “Mitchanah”.
I walked down that path to the river, where I saw an island to sleep on, as I did not care to sleep in the wild animal jungle. I lay down and was drifting off when I saw what I thought was a crouching tiger about 20 feet from me. Well, I continued drifting off and went to sleep, as I was exhausted. The next morning I awakened and looked toward that tiger. I turned out to be just a bush!!!!
I walked back to that path, as it veered south, too, along and near the right side of the river. I noticed a small 2-man bamboo raft on the water’s edge and fairly near the path that I was walking on. I got that raft and started to float down the river, but it wasn’t many hours when the raft hit a whirlpool, which badly damaged that raft, but just then, I happened to see another 2-man bamboo raft on the right bank and I paddled with my hands – I got it placed in over my damaged one and continued my floating down the river.
A bit later-on, I noticed, on the right side path of the river (that I had started walking down on), a group of cows being driven back up by young fellows. Two of those fellows saw me and got a 2 man raft nearby, and paddled out to me. They guided me and my rafts back to their shore and then took me to their village, nearby, and to where the cows apparently went. We stopped at the first edge of their village and gave me a big leaf full of rice and some other food to eat. I ate it all, as I was famished.
We then went to the chief’s large, thatched hut on the other edge of that village, high on stilts, so the wild animals couldn’t come in, I guess. Well, we three went up that ladder and into the thatched hut. There was a fire in the fireplace under the floor and in the middle of the big living room (I guess), and the entire village of people with sarong skirts on sitting along the walls (curious, I guess), and my 2 companions and I sat in the middle of that room near the fireplace.
Someone handed me a skirt-sarong to put on. I went in the other room and did so. There was no bathroom, and since the hut had an outside, railed, walkway surrounding the hut. I presumed that was used for bathroom purposes, since there didn’t seem to be any other. The chief of the village returned from hunting and he immediately told me in English to go into the next room and put my sarong-skirt on correctly, as people could see my nakedness, as I had put it on incorrectly. Well, I put it on correctly.
Soon, I asked a person for a cigarette (as I had heard a long time ago, that the U.S. Air Force people had cached cigarettes, etc. in the fields of nearby villages for the crashed service men to use). No one in the group understood my language, so gave me more rice to eat.
I do not remember sleeping in the village, but my two companions took me to the path, at the edge of the river, and we 3 began walking to the air force base, and when we arrived, I arranged to give them blankets, as a gift, and they departed.
The orderly then asked me “Captain, would like to eat”? Then he asked me if I’d like to wash first. Well, I did, and looked in the mirror of the latrine, and saw my hair standing up like a Fiji Islander, and my summer flying suit with burn holes all over it. Well, I straightened myself as best I could. Then I asked him if my crew had come in. Since he said no, I asked for a plane to look for them. He suggested for me to eat first, and told me that a small plane and a pilot would be waiting to take me to look for my crew, right afterward. I only remember getting in that little airplane.
When I got in, the pilot turned around and he yelled at me “Homer Anderson”? I yelled back, “Bent Agee”! He then said, the last time I saw you was in my English class at Southwest High School in Kansas City. Gosh, it was good to see him!
We took off and looked and looked, to no avail, but my crew walked in to the base, soon thereafter! My American “co-pilot” walked to the next river and followed it down. The Chinese radio operator had gone to a family’s hut in-between two rivers and the husband beat him up, thinking he was Japanese – that war was still going on. He, too, walked into that base. Gosh, that was great!! Well, we all got back to the CNAC base in India. I do not recall that anyone said much about our venture.
My wife and little son, moved to Calcutta, India, where I spent my own R&Rs. I know nothing about the future of the co-pilot, nor radio operator.
Hope you enjoyed, at least some of what you have read. I’m not a professional writer, as you can tell, and I’m full of blah, blah, too!!