China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) cargo crews wore a variety of uniform items. Capt. Steve Kusak (left) is wearing the typical flight uniform of khaki shirt and pants, Wellington boots, USAAF A-2 leather flight jacket with "Chung," and CNAC uniform hat. The others are using USAAF A-4 flight suits over their uniforms with a B-3 flight jacket being worn on the right. (Photo courtesy of cnac.org)
CNAC Douglas C-47 Skytrain photographed in flight. The distinctive CNAC "Chung" insignia was applied to aircraft in 1942 at the request of the 14th Air Force for identification. The "Chung" character means "middle" and is from China being referred to as the Middle Kingdom or Nation (??). (Photo courtesy of cnac.org)
In early 1940, lone DC-3 passenger aircraft of the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) cautiously probed over and around the highest mountains in the world seeking air routes between China and India ... and to the outside world. CNAC's great success in finding these vital air routes led to the first regular flights over the Himalaya Mountains, known in history as the "Hump" and later becoming vital partners in the world's first strategic airlift.
CNAC was formed in 1929. By 1933, it had evolved into a partnership between the Government of China and Pan American World Airways from the United States. Following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, CNAC became China's only direct means of communication with the outside world. Flight operations were a pilot's nightmare. The 500+ mile flights were extremely hazardous over the world's roughest terrain, in unpredictable weather conditions, and with poor navigation aids. Japanese fighter aircraft were also on the prowl.
The aircrews were typically made up of both American and Chinese pilots along with Chinese flight engineers and radio operators. In 1942 when the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers) disbanded, 17 of the pilots chose to remain in China and fly for CNAC. Among notable CNAC passengers during the early war years were Lt. Col. James Doolittle and other Tokyo Raiders, who were being evacuated from China back to India after their raid on the Japanese mainland. The CNAC DC-3 on this flight was flown by Capt. Moon Chin, a Chinese-American pilot from Baltimore, Md.
After America's entry into the war, the U.S. 10th Air Force began flight operations over the Hump. As the airlift expanded operations, it came under the direct control of the Air Transport Command. CNAC flights were fully merged into the airlift along with military aircraft. CNAC was provided with C-46, C-47 and C-54 aircraft to expand their capabilities. In 1944 and 1945, CNAC also provided low-level tactical airlift support over enemy territory during the Burma campaign by dropping supplies to Chinese and American ground forces, evacuating beleaguered Chinese and British troops, and supplying the Ledo Road project with men and equipment.
Between April 1942 and August 1945, CNAC crews are reported to have flown over 38,000 missions transporting 114,500 tons of vital materials and personnel to Allied Forces in China, Burma and India. In recognition of CNAC contributions to the war effort and their successful incorporation into Air Transport Command operations, former American CNAC aircrew were granted veteran status in 1993 and awarded all due awards and decorations including the Victory Medal, Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
"Flying the 'Hump' was the foremost and by far the most dangerous, difficult and historic achievement of the entire war." Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer, Commander, U.S. Forces - China