The following two stories were written by Robert Pottschmidt in the 1980's.
These stories preserve much of the CNAC history not otherwise documented.


Throughout the greater part of world war II CNAC got two new airplanes every month. They were normally ferried in pairs from Florida to Calcutta via the south Atlantic. Usually the crew consisted of the captain after a brief home-leave, one or two newly hired copilots and a navigator who made regular monthly trips between Florida and Accra, Africa.

On March 7, 1944 two planes left Florida (West Palm Beach) for the trip to Calcutta. I was pilot of plane #91 with copilots Kelly and Guzowski and Navigator Walter Zech. Our first leg was to Camaguey, Cuba.

Our first leg was suposed to be West Palm Beach to San Juan Puerto Rico. The reason for our stop at Camaguey was to buy booze at reasonable prices. Previous flights had been stopping at Nassau for the reasonable booze but the authorities there had decided to not permit CNAC crews off the airport. All this information about Camaguey and Nassau was made available to us by our navigators.

We arrived at Camaguey in the early afternoon and nineteen cases of booze were purchased among the two crews. I can't say why, but all 19 were loaded on my airplane. We had lovely steak dinners which were getting very expensive in the U.S. The people at the airport told us that it was usually fogged in most of the morning but we could beat it if we got off by 4 a.m. We planned accordingly.

As we taxied out for takeoff at 4 a.m. the ceiling was low - the rotating beacon on the hangar was scratching the fuzz on the overcast - but visibility was more than a mile. Tut took off and I estimated I was about 45 seconds behind him. As I was just about airborne there suddenly appeared a glow of flames ahead about 15 degrees to the left. God - we realized that Tut had crashed. I impulsively started to throttle back - but quickly realized that it could be too late to abort the takeoff. We were grossing about 30,000 lbs. We broke out on top at about 400 ft., circled once over the glow of flames through the fog layer. Too dangerous to try to go back and land. We headed for San Juan about another 800 miles.

Two or three nights later we were at Natal, Brazil after stops at San Juan, Trinidad and Belem. We planned a 10 p.m. departure for Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic. Our flight was to be delayed 24 hours according to the military police. It appeared to us that we were suspected of having contraband on board with that unscheduled landing at Camaguey. All we had was liquor which we obviously didn't try to hide. I was taken aside and quizzed for about 15 minutes - even with a male stenographer taking notes. Each of the other crew got the same treatment and each of us when finished was not permitted to talk to anyone not yet quizzed. They apparently also made an exhaustive examination of the plane's cargo. The major in charge was interested in a case of high quality Cuban rum which was part of my personal 4 case collection. I sold it to him at cost. The remainder of our trip to Calcutta was uneventful.

After arrival in Calcutta certain disciplinary measures were brought against me. I was not allowed to keep my booze and had to go on copilot's pay for a couple of months. This was due less to my CNAC superiors than it was to pressure from General P.T. Mow who was in charge of shipping supplies to China. He was insisting that I be fired. Four years after this unfortunate incident I learned from a friend who was an intelligence officer with the 14th Air force that American intelligence had traced a shipment of industrial diamonds to either Tutweiler's plane or mine. Someone was trying to smuggle them to the Japanese. This explains the exhaustive search of my plane's cargo at Natal. This may tend to reflect upon the character of General Mow, but he was otherwise involved in some official larceny.

When I had test flown my plane at West Palm Beach I took off with my artificial horizon caged - it's the first time I had seen this instrument with a caging control. I was impressed with the potential danger of doing this. My guess is that Tutweiler took off with his horizon caged - when he really needed it. I'm sure the caging control was also unfamiliar to him.

It saddens me to reflect on this unfortunate episode. Tut was more than just a fellow pilot colleague - he was a good friend. The decision to make the stop at Camaguey really rested with me. I was the senior pilot. If we had not gone there Tut and the other three fine fellows would probably be around today.


I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in February, 1911. About 1931 I had a ride at Lunken Airport in a WACO piloted by a fellow from Texas named Dee Graham. He was a cousin of my close friend.

In January, 1933 I enrolled in the Master Pilots Course of the Boeing School of Aeronautics at Oakland, California. The school was a subsidiary of United Air Lines and prospects seemed good for getting a job as copilot with United. My first solo was in a Boeing 203. After 60 hours of flying, a quarter of ground school and a private pilots license I dropped out of school to reconsider the wisdom of continuing as the tuition was costly and the prospects of employment seemed uncertain. I reentered school in 1934 and ran my flight training total to 200 hours and got a commercial license. Part of the training was to overhaul an OX5 checkout and a short flight at a small field in Monrovia, California. Back to Boeing School in 1935 for the last 50 hours of flight training which included advanced instrument flying and some multi-engine experience. The instrument flying was in a Boeing 40B4 and I got a little time in a Ford, a Boeing 80A and a Boeing 247. In September, 1945 I was hired at Swan Island as a radio telephone operator by United. Next January I was transferred to Boing Field, Seattle. After several weeks there I was offered a flying job with China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) provided I pay my own way to Shanghai. The contact for this opportunity was through George Myers, chief flight instructor at the Boeing School and his former air mail buddy Ernie Allison, operations manager for CNAC. Allie was an OX5 Pioneer.

I arrived in Shanghai in late March, 1936 after a 3 week trip from Seattle on the President Jefferson. My wife and 2 year old son remained in Cashmere, Washington. They arrived in Shanghai 6 months later. After several weeks instructing Chinese pilots in a Stearman and about 3 months as copilot I checked out as an airline captain on a 6 place Stinson Detroiter on the Shanghai-Peking run. The cabin was small and once a passenger sitting behind me vomited on the back of my neck. Among the passengers on my first trip was Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, a Pan American Airways director. Pan Am owned 45% of CNAC. He didn't smile when I told him it was my first trip as captain. On one of these trips on the Tsingtao-Tientsin leg, normally a 2 hr. 45 min. flight it was going to take 4 hours due to a 40 mile headwind. It was cold and bumpy. About 2 hours out we were over the Yellow River delta area and the unpopulated surface was smooth and dry and my bladder was aching. My American copilot, Harold Brown handed me a note: "I've got a belly full". Without a reply I closed the throttle and we landed straight ahead. The three passengers and we two crew members got out and had a good pee. These Shanghai-Peking trips continued for me until Friday, August 13, 1937.

This was the date the Sino-Japanese war started in a serious way. I was on a Peking-Shanghai trip this day and a little way out of Peking I passed some Jap bombers on their way to do a little bombing at Peking. The remainder of the trip was uneventful with stops at Tientsin, Tsingtao and Haichow. On arrival in Shanghai I was told I would have to take my plane out because Japanese warships were already shooting up the area north of the International Settlement. Hal Sweet and Moon Chin also flew Stinsons with me to Nanking and Donald Wong flew a Ford there. The DC-2's were later safely evacuated from Shanghai. The next day we four planes headed for Hankow in loose formation. About halfway to Hankow Donald got a message ordering us to return to Nanking. The reason for this is still obscure to me but funny things happen when Chinese generals start giving orders in a wartime situation. So we four returned to Nanking. It must have been a mistake as we started to refuel to resume our trip westward to Hankow. During this refueling interval the air alarm sounded and shortly about 6 Japanese bombers came in under an 800 ft. ceiling and bombed the airport. I can't describe how scared I was but I tried to crawl into a muddy ditch about six inches deep. We didn't do any more flying that day (Aug. 14). Fortunately none of our planes got hit. We spent the night in a hotel in Nanking. There I made the acquaintance of Billy McDonald and Claire Chennault, two of the three men of the famed Flying Trapeze noted for performing acrobatics in close formation. The next day our 4 plane formation made an uneventful trip to Hankow.

During the few days I was in Hankow instructions came from our American superviors in Shanghai to quit flying an get out of China. These instructions apparently originated with the U.S. State Department explained as follows. Chuck Sharp, after landing a load of bank notes at Changsha August 14 was ordered by a Chinese Colonel to take a load of bombs to Hangchow on the east coast under threat of being shot. Chuck described these circumstances to his bosses in Shanghai by radio asking what to do. He was told not to get shot in any circumstances. It seems these uncoded messages were intercepted by the Japanese who promptly protested to the State Department. Remember we were still at peace with the Japanese until the Pearl Harbor attack 4 years later. August 14 was an historic day for another reason. Chinese bombers aiming at a Japanese warship in the Whangpoo River and missed their target and dropped a 1100 lb. bomb on Nanking Road, Shanghai's busiest street killing at least 1000 and wounding another 1000.

My wife and son were among 410 American women and children evacuated from Shanghai on August 17. This involved a perilous transfer of passengers from a tender to the President Jefferson in the wide Yangtze River in heavy seas. This incident is described by Mrs. Theodore Rosevelt, Jr. in the October 30, 1937 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. In the meantime I left Hankow for Hongkong as a passenger on Eurasea Airlines Junkers JU-52 and eventually joined my family in the Philippines. All American personnel of CNAC except Hal Sweet proceded to the U.S.A. in accordance with previously mentioned instructions. Until the spring of 1938 the ailine continued to function with reduced operations in Western China with Hal Sweet and 4 Chinese pilots along with competent Chinese ground crew.

In March, 1938 senior pilots Chuck Sharp and H.L. Woods returned from the states to revive operations with Headquarters in Hongkong. I returned in June. The principal route was to be Hongkong to Chungking which had become China's wartime capital. To operate out of Hongkong we had to fly over the adjacent territory occupied by the Japanese. It was incorrectly assumed that the Japs would not attack an unarmed civilian plane carrying passengers. On August 24, 1938, Woods on a flight heading west out of Hongkong was attacked by eight Japanese planes near Macao. He ditched his plane in a river and the Japs continued to strafe the ditched plane. Woodie, his radio operator and a Chinese passenger were the only survivors out of 16 aboard the plane.

My checkout on DC-2's happened in an unusual way. Shortly after Woodie was shot down he and Chuck Sharp were off on a brief rest trip to Bali. Mr. Bond got an urgent request from the Chinese Air Force to send a crew to Kweilin (about half way between Hongkong and Chungking.) to pick up a DC-2 and fly it up to the Chungking area as intelligence indicated that the Japs were about to bomb Kweilin. The plane had been stored there under camouflage and the CAF had no qualified pilots. With Hal Sweet flying a shuttle between Chungking and Chengtu there were no pilots around except me. So I and 4 other crew (copilot, radio operator, 2 mechanics) were dispatched from Hongkong to Kweilin by surface travel. This was to Canton and Wuchow by boat and then 3 days by charcoal fueled bus to Kweilin. While lunching at a restaurant in Wuchow the Japs bombed an intersection one block away from us and destroyed all the adjacent buildings. Otherwise the trip to Kweilin was without incident. We test flew the plane swinging the compass using the directional gyro. The next day we headed for Chungking CFR as we had no navigational radio, had to return to Kweilin account weather. The next day we made it to Chungking. Then Ernie Allison who had been retained by T.V. Soong as a consultant was assigned to fly this plane for the Chinese Air Force. Allie had been eased out of CNAC as apparently it was thought somebody should be blamed fo the fiasco of the 1937 evacuation of Shanghai. Well, I was Allie's copilot for a couple of trips and then I was pilot as he was anxious to get back to the U.S.A. After about a month on this job and some interesting trips to places I would never have seen on the CNAC routes I returned to CNAC service as a qualified captain. No more check rides. Incidentally, Allison was rehired as operations manager in 1947 having served part of the meantime as a Boeing test pilot.

The Jap attack on Woodie's plane resulted in our changing operating procedures by limiting all flying within 1 1/2 (add code for a "1/2" character) hours of Hongkong to hours of darkness. In 1939 three DC-3's and three Curtiss Condors were added to our fleet. Our Douglas planes were equipped with Telefunken direction finders which used manually operated loop antennas in conjuction with headphones which gave A-N code signals to eliminate the 180 (add code for a degree character) ambiguity characteristic of loop antennas. These radios were 100 percent reliable and enabled us to make low ceiling instrument approaches. Regular flights were conducted throughout western China including scheduled trips to Hanoi and Rangoon. Throughout this period of the Hongkong operation from 1938 up to the time of the Pearl Harbor attack there were no passenger injuries or fatalities except for two incidents of our planes being attacked by Japanese. Besides the Woods incident pilot Foxy Kent and some others were killed when his plane was strafed in its landing roll at Chanyi in October, 1940.

I was on home leave at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. The Hongkong airport was bombed the same morning. Within a few days Hongkong was occupied by the Japanese. The DC-2's and the Condors were destroyed but the DC-3's did a dramatic job of evacuating essential equipment and personnel plus 400 passengers. Operations and maintenance headquarters were set up in Calcutta.

A period of CNAC's great expansion started in early 1942 through a contract with the U.S. Army to fly cargo over the hump - India to China. In this period the Flying Tigers were disbanded and 18 of their pilots were hired by CNAC. Among these was Bob Prescott, founder of the Flying Tiger Line. Until the end of the war in August, 1945 CNAC got 2 new planes every month on the U.S. - China lend lease. These were C-53's, C-47's and C-46's. The principal route was Dinjan, in upper Assam, to Kunming although many longer flights were made to places on the Yangtze River in Szechwan province. As the senior active pilot I was the instructor-check pilot and most of the CNAC hump pilots were checked out by me. We operated up to 40 round trips a day over the hump. During this wartime operation CNAC lost 32 planes and 25 flight crews. Our safety and efficiency of operation was remarkably better than that of the ATC. This was due to our greater background of experience and our ability to attract more experienced pilots.

On October 10, 1943 I got a message from Mr. Bond that I was to fly T.V. Soong the next day from Assam to Chungking with an early morning departure. T.V. was China's minister of finance and brother of Madam Chiang Kai Shek. I advised that I would pick him up at Chabua, the ATC base, where he had arrived by ATC. I planned a 5 a.m. departure. On the evening of the 10th T.V.'s emmisary found me to tell me that T.V. wanted to leave at 2 a.m. and he would be at our base at Dinjan. So it went according to his plan - a 5 1/2 hour flight non-stop to Chungking. Two days later, Oct. 13th, there were 5 transport planes shot down over north Burma including one of ours - the others were ATC. This was the first time planes flying the hump were attacked. I must have realized later that T.V. knew through intelligence what the Japs were planning. Later Chennault told me that he was the one (who) advised T.V. to cross the hump at night.

I'll describe one of my memorable flights. There had been a story in TIME magazine about an American military pilot who reported climbing up through an overcast and breaking out on top at 30,000 ft. and seeing a mountain prominently sticking its peak up through the clouds. The name of the mountain was given "Amne Machin". This mountain shows on our Air Force charts at roughly at 35 (degrees) North, 100(degrees) East. One day in 1945 I had an opportunity to fly an empty C-46 non-stop Lanchow to Dinjan. On the morning non-stop flight Dinjan-Lanchow (by way of Likiang and Chengtu for safety with a loaded plane) the weather looked perfectly clear. Out of Lanchow we headed straight for the Amne Machin which was about 100 miles to the right of a straight course to Dinjan. The Amne Machin was nothing impressive - there were 2 peaks about 20,000 ft. - as the map showed two peaks both marked, 19,988. (chart # 435). The visibility here was unlimited so if there was anything near 30,000 ft. we would have seen it. We continue on our course for Dinjan at 20,000 and about 600 miles later we run into an overcast at 21,000 ft. and a little later right ahead a mountain range sticking up into the clouds. There is no alternative except to climb on instruments to a safe altitude. A wide 360(degree) turn put us at 25,000 indicated. I knew this was safe as I had seen this range from about 50 miles to the south and judged it to be about 22,000 ft. We stayed up there until a radio bearing put us back on the regular hump route. Related to this flight is attached a copy of a newspaper clipping from the Shanghai Evening Post & Mercury printed in 1948.

Come September, 1945 with the war over it is time to move our base again. Naturally, back to Shanghai where we started in the early thirties. Operations out of Shanghai became very active - reviving all of the old routes in eastern China as well maintaining those developed in western China during the war years. In 1947 CNAC acquired 5 DC-4's which were used largely on international routes to Japan, Formosa, Philippines and a weekly trip to San Francisco. Part of our service involved dropping supplies to towns in North China besieged by the communists. For the second time CNAC moved its base from Shanghai to Hongkong. This transfer was done in an orderly fashion and lasted throughout the year 1948, and was motivated by the steady progress of the communists from North China toward the south. In early 1949 our trips to Shanghai were terminated.

CNAC operations out of Hongkong proceded smoothly until one day in early November 1949. The Chinese personnel had been having secret meetings and the consensus was to switch loyalties from Chiang Kai Shek to Mao Tse Tung. There were 10 regularly scheduled flights with everything normal up to the time to load passengers for a flight to Kunming, Taiwan or wherever. These passengers were told their flights were cancelled. The 10 planes, all DC-3's or C-47's took off for Peking loaded with key personnel and equipment. Of course, all crew members were Chinese. We had 15 Chinese captains at the time. CNAC as a functioning airline ceased forever.

All of us Americans were there in Hongkong with nothing to do. The airline property including about 70 CNAC planes became a matter of litigation hinging on which was the government of China - the Nationalist or the communists. The Hongkong court decided in favor of the communists but this decision was appealed and reversed about 3 years later. The American personnel were given termination notices effective December 31, 1949 with 30 days more salary plus transportation expenses to the U.S. for employees and family members. I gave Mary Margaret power of attorney to collect the $6500 due me and left in January, 1950 for Burma to join some former colleagues who had started a freight airline there.

One of the founders of this Burma operation, Jim Maupin, had endeared himself to the Indonesians by making some flights between Burma and Jogjakarta, Java running the Dutch blockade while the Indonesians were having a little civil war with the Dutch in their struggle for independence. Their independence was soon achieved peacefully with the help of the United Nations. By June, 1950 with Maupin as my boss I was in Java as senior pilot fo the air transport division of the Indonesian Air Force. Mary Margaret and my son Bob, then 4, joined me in a pleasant home in Bandung which has a delightful climate at 2800 ft. elevation. My son Louie, then 16, learned to fly in a Piper Cub - cost $2 per hour for plane and instructor. Louie now flies helicopters for Weyerhaeuser after service in the Air Force including a tour in Vietnam. I flew to all parts of Indonesia in C-47's and also did a little flying in PN-Y's and B-25's. In 1953 I got a DC-3 Air Transport Rating from an American F.A.A. inspector who was visiting Indonesia. I resigned in June, 1955 thus ending my professional flying career.

Among well known persons who have been my passengers are Ernest Hemingway, Lowell Thomas, Roy Howard, Henry Luce, Madam & Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek.

In the years 1956-61 I was a participating principal in a small fertilizer business in Wapato, Washington. I was employed as an assistant actuary with a Portland branch of a national consulting firm from October, 1962 to July, 1978.

I did no flying from June, 1955 until August, 1970. Since then maintained my Class III medical and occasionally fly a Cessna or Piper Arrow. Got a Glider rating in 1973.

Mary Margaret and I visited China in June, 1980 and I had a pleasant visit in Peking with two of the pilots who had flown planes to the communists in 1949. In China we were passengers on a 747, British-Tridents and a Russian twin engine trubo prop plane.

Photo to be added, please check back later. Thanks.

If you have any comments regarding Capt. Pottschmidt's history, please let the CNAC Web Editor know.

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