• Fly & Deliver: Faith's Flight

    Fly & Deliver: Faith's Flight

    Chongqing to Kolkata (Calcutta), Christmas Day 1944, Seventy Years Ago

    It has been some time since I wrote anything for FlightSim.Com or added to my blog here. My writing in other areas (detective novels) has absorbed me for months now.

    It was coming across the notes made some years ago and the holiday approaching that made me think I should write up this Christmas Day flight and add the story here for others to try it. 'Faith's Flight' is a 'flying the hump' variant, but not the northerly route we find most often in flight simulation and notably in Dave Grundlach's excellent 'The Hump' adventure (hump10.zip in the library). This one is in part along the more southerly route, stretching on to Kolkata, then known as Calcutta.

    Departing Kunming

    Faith Cook (nee Rowe) is an English author, born in China. She is the daughter of a missionary couple, Stanley and Norah Rowe who served with the China Inland Mission (CIM) in the period before and around World War Two. My godmother was a teacher/missionary with CIM after World War Two and it was from looking into her own story that I came across this remarkable flight. Faith wrote about it in her book Troubled Journey, on the pleasures and challenges of growing up as the child of dedicated missionaries in rural China.

    In 1944, around seven-years old, she was in a boarding school then located in Sichuan province. The decision was made to evacuate the 30-plus school children and teachers to India. After a long journey from Leshan to Chongqing in trucks along refugee-packed roads, the school children and staff reached the Chongqing airport (Jangbei) where this flight began.

    The planned route was Chongqing - Kunming - Calcutta. The children and teachers were loaded aboard an American C-47 I believe (she refers to the aircraft as military DC-3). Faith recalls being passed from hand to hand by American soldiers and entering the 'dark hole' of the aircraft entrance. After approximately two hours of flying they were nearing Kunming when they received radio signals about an imminent Japanese bombing attack of the airfield, followed by radio silence. In fact, records show that Kunming was bombed daily over Christmas week 1944.

    The pilot circled for two hours getting increasingly concerned about the situation and his fuel levels. At a critical point, radio contact was re-established and he was directed to the airfield at Yunnani (about 50 miles west of the original destination). En route he ran out of fuel yet managed to glide in and make a dead-stick landing there. Following refuelling, they returned to Kunming (which had re-opened) to a 2.00 a.m. breakfast on the base, a welcome treat for the hungry children and caregivers. The party then re-boarded the aircraft and set off on the second, longer leg of their journey to Calcutta.

    En-route clearing the mountain ranges

    Faith Cook recalls in her book the soporific effects of flying at high altitude without supplemental oxygen, the bouncing around in the turbulence crossing the mountains and her recollection of another student, asthmatic, getting into breathing difficulties. Eventually they arrived safely in Calcutta with its heat, bustle and noise to face yet another new environment away from parents.

    Her book mentions that there was a rumor that the pilot who flew this trip was so traumatized that he never flew again; one that I hope is incorrect - he did a good job under very difficult conditions.

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