Jorgen Jorgensen

by Jorgen Jorgensen

Our mission as army pilots was to aid chiang kai chek leader of the nationalists in the war with the communists under the leadership of mao zedong.1945.

My copilot and Imet the chinese raw soldiers at the c-46 cargo plane were we to fly them to a designated field from kunming china We looked at these seemingly half starved peasants with no uniforms, but just a cotton undershirt ,and pants that looked like cotton underwear. They all were wearing the straw conical straw hats, and were wearing the fibre sandals with bare feet.. They each had slung across their chest a pair of bullet loaded belts slung like a cross against their chest. Each had a rifle . There was a leader that under stood some english.

After loading the troops, we closed the doors of the plane, put on our parachutes. The parachutes were dual purpose so that incase the main chute failed to open, the second chute should.The mainparachute formed our seat and the other chute formed our back cushion .

As we flew in a clear day and all was, well, we started to smell smoke coming from the back of the plane. My copilot went back to find all the chinese huddled around a fire. My copilot managed to put out the fire, and asked why? The answer was they were cold and wanted to warm up.

We were happy to finally land and rid of these troops. . We both were thankful they did not try to shoot us while in the air.

*****

c46 smoke from plane2

It was a rainy morning, and we were getting ready to start on the assigned mission. The procedure was to first inspect the outside of the c-46 for any obvious damage, and check all moving parts of the ailerons, tail elevators and the vertical tail. The length of the plane is 74 ft 4 inches.The wingspan is 108 ft. The two wing mounted engines are 2100 hp each with a set of four bladed props. The weight of the empty plane is 15000 lbs.

We walked from the rear door of the plane, found and mounted the dual parachutes, using them for a seat cushion and the 2nd parachute as a back cushion. We started the two engines, while my copilot read the start up sheet, checking each control and dial indicator as instructed.

After finishing the required check list procedure, and warming the engines, checking that the mags were cleared, and the engines were running smoothly, we radioed the control tower for take off time.

We were at take off position, and when the tower gave us the GO command, I increased the power to maximum while we both pressed the brakes with our maximum strength. The entire plane shook as if it was about to fall apart. We removed our feet from the brakes, and the plane started down the runway. It was like driving a truck from a seat 22 ft above the ground. Between steering the plane down the center of the runway, I adjusted all the trim tabs for maintaining the plane to move straight, trim tabs to start the tail to lift to close to a horizontal elevation before attaining 130 mph, the speed needed to obtain flight.

The 130 mph once obtained, I set the controls to gain altitude at 500 ft per min.

Every take off was a play back in my mind of a take off start of a fellow pilot. He was off the ground about 50 ft when he had one of the engines die. His plane was carrying a load of about 7.5 tons of gasoline. The loss of one engine caused his plane to stall and the plane dropped to the ground. The plane stopped from more than 130 mph to zero, the plane burst into flames, and the pilots could not release their safety belts, the flames engulfed the plane, I heard the screams as the flight crew burned to death.

I climbed to my designated altitude, all seemed well, and I started a turn to the left; the plane would not turn, I moved the vertical tail left to right, but nothing happened, there was no movement of the tail, it just flopped in the wind.

In order to make a controlled turn, a pilot uses his ailerons on the wings to tilt the plane in a rotating fashion while adding power to the engines and turning the vertical tail rudder. This method is needed to obtain a turn to keep from the plane being thrown out horizontally due to centrifugal force.

I called the field for permission to keep the runway open for emergency landing. This was a learning experience I was never prepared for. I used the engines to aide me in turning the as well as the ailerons, but it was like trying to dance with a bull buffalo. I managed a wide arc to where we could not even see the field. Finally after a struggle I lined up with the runway and made a landing that we were able to walk away from. I was told any landing that one can walk away from is a good one.

*****

My orders was to report for a mission of an extended time from home base at Shanghai. Dick and I reported to our designated C-46. The plane was already loaded with some Chinese high ranking officers and US Army high ranking officers. The selected crew comprised of a radio operator, a navigator, and us to fly the plane.

The navigator gave compass setting, altitude, and said Canton is the destination.

There were two planes that were going to Canton at the same time, they also had Chinese and Army brass as passengers. The tower gave each the order of take off. All three of us where in the air, the weather at Shanghai was fine. The weather was starting to cloud up, and when the radio compass indicated the direction to the Canton field, we had been in heavy fog for the past half hour at least. I lost track of the other two planes, I called to the tower for landing instructions. I learned the field was in-between two mountains, the visibility was good about 600 feet elevation, any higher than 600 feet was dense fog. We were between mountains, and not following the next instructions would mean a crash.

The radio compass indicated a compass reading, I turned the plane until the radio compass reading was “O”. As I approached the tower, the radio compass turned to 15 degrees. This was crazy, which direction was correct to cross over the tower? I made a 180 degree turn to the left, as I was in the turn, the navigator came forward and started to yell at me for not proceeding to land, instead of wandering around the sky. I was wet from perspiration and no mood to answer him, I turned the plane until the radio compass again indicated”. Again we proceeded to the radio tower, and, again the radio compass swung 15 degrees to the left. I had to make a choice which direction was the first “O” or the “15” indication prevented the crashing into a mountain. I had all this brass on board as well as my crew. I chose the initial direction “O”, continued to the tower, and called the tower for landing instructions. I was given a compass setting to turn to, and, an altitude to fly at, the length of time to fly past the tower, continue for a given time at 180 radio compass indication, turn to a gyro compass setting given me, fly at the given direction for a given time interval, turn 180 degrees, and start the let down to the runway. I followed the tower instructions. I made a safe landing. One of our planes used the “15” degree signal, and, crashed into the side of a mountain. The third plane landed safely.

We were all set up with sleeping and eating services since we had to wait for better weather before flying to Hanoi. The remains of the personnel were found by a search party. The identity of the pilot, from his teeth, was found in his stomach remains, he used to fly for an airline in the States before coming to the air corps.

The stay was three days of hot, very humid weather. My shoes we showing mold and my uniforms were damp. I felt sad for our commanding officer of the Canton army air field. He did his best to find ways of reducing our boredom.

Finally the weather let up, an, we started our trip to Hanoi. We were the last plane to take off, and the navigator gave me compass and altitude instuctions. As soon as clearing the field, we were flying below mountains, which was a zigzag cruise, rather a fun time.

We ended at the coast line at the bay of Tonkin. I was ordered to fly up over the cloud overcast to where we were in bright blue sky, and, the clouds below looking like a dark grey blanket. I was ordered to go down into the dark fog mass. The navigator was sitting between Dick and I. He suddenly looked up from his map, and told me to immediately turn sharply to the left, we were in the heavy fog at this time. I turned sharply up into a left turn as my right wing missed the rocks by about three feet.. This trip was no fun.

I came out of the clouds as I straightened and reduced my altitude. Below I saw a mass of mud flats at the outlet of the RED RIVER. The direction the navigator was to follow the entry to the RED RIVER which would guide us to the Hanoi air port. The river is a winding 29 miles, or more, with all twists and turns. The navigator studied his map and he located the entry to the river. I let down to about 1000 feet, and, followed the navigator’s direction. I was happy that he found the way, because I was totally confused by all the mud flaps with the water canals between.

As I started following the river, the fog ceiling got lower. I slowed to 130 mph.. As we progressed along the river, the fog was now so low that I could see only about 180 feet ahead,I reduced my altitude so much that now that the power of the propellers churned the water in the river. Then stone columns appeared at the left of the plane ,so I had to bank to the right and elevate to avoid hitting the column. In the next few moments, a stone column appeared at the right and I banked sharp and up to the left. These stone columns continued to appear for about another 20 minutes as I banked left & up and down, right & up and down The navigator came up to me, and wondered if I had lost my mind. The passengers were throwing up from getting air sick, they not realize the twisting up and down was done to prevent a crash.

Finally after 94 minutes of winding our along the river, Hanoi appeared along the river. At last I could contact the tower there, get landing permission and instructions I could see French tanks and trucks lined up at the field. The French army was at the northern edge fighting the Viet cong.

We left our plane while bullets were flying by, it sounded like bees flying by us. After reaching the building, we rested, the Major from our plane, invited us to a “gombai” party, We were in for a treat. We were served hot rice wine, it was delicious, after the wine came a large bowl of fish eye soup with a ceramic spoon. I dipped the spoon, and, as I raised the spoon, the soup became a thick string of what looked like glue, I replaced the ceramic spoon while looking down into the soup, I looked at all the dead fish eyes staring back at me. I with the rest of our group, had no soup. The food continued to our table, such as fried grass hoppers, fried termites, and another fried insects, the rest of the meal was good, I was happy not to know what kind of meat was used in the dishes.

By the time the meal was ending, I had to relieve myself, I tried to get up but my legs lost feelings, I was really starting to sweat, finally after a few minutes, feeling came back, and, I was able to leave for relief.

I was anxious to leave Hanoi but had to wait for orders. The French that made their home in Hanoi, had shops of French wares, and French food, there were many young women, a mix of native and French birth. I attended a dance as an observer, the French men were dancing with the young ladies of mixed, native, and French origin. There was an aura of gloom, and I asked a person there why. I was told that the French troops were starting to retreat, the war in indo china had been going on for years, and, the Viet cong was winning, They knew the day was soon where the killing of the residents would happen, and, the dance was to try help escape the inevenable.

The following day, I was told to leave with our radio man to an army field that was on a given compass setting, where we would land, refuel,rest, and return to Shanghai. The navigator had enough of me, so no navigator for us. As we started on our way, we watched tanks and trucks leaving Hanoi and the Viet cong. I was happy leaving Hanoi, wondering if the others made it out, I saw none of the others again.

The trip to the field was uneventful, we picked up the tower signal, landed, and were given food and sleeping quarters.

We entered this old vacated Jap barn equipped with canvas beds, assigned one of them each to Dick and I. The first night was misting and damp. We were each given an army blanket. I was could, damp, could not sleep. The following morning, we saw all the manure disposal openings along the base of the walls where all the damp cold air came in to keep us cold and miserable. I left thru the stable door into the recent Jap grave yard. It must have been a hasty Jap escape, since so many did not become fully buried. I saw this hand and arm sticking out of the ground, there was black skin on the hand, and the near naked skull that seemed to belong to the arm. The black lips that pulled away from the teeth looked like the Jap was buried alive.

The breakfast took place at the outdoor army mess. The food was served on trays by a couple of unhappy soldiers wearing helmet liners and raincoats. Both Dick and I wanted to leave to Shanghai; to warm barracks, and comfortable sleeping bags. I checked with the weather officer at the tower, he said we could leave this morning. The mist was still heavy. He said his ground crew would turn our plane and position it in line with the runway. We would have heavy fog up to about 6000 feet, and, then be in the clear weather for a safe flight to Shanghai.

Dick and I agreed to the plan.

I checked the compass setting, pre-flight procedure, and started the engines, while looking at the runway, I only saw runway for about 60 feet in front of me. It was to be an instrument take off, or stay another night here. We agreed to take off, what a mistake!

It was my first, and, last instrument take off, I understand the standing orders a mandatory ceiling of 300 feet minimum for landing or take off. I maintained the compass setting while taking off .I started the 500 fpm. climb to 6000 feet. We reached 6000 feet but no clear weather. I forgot to tell you we still had our radio operator with us. I thought we would be clear, but we were now at 8000 feet, I was starting to worry, and by the looks on the faces of the other two, they were feeling the same way.

The wings were starting to pick up ice, so I started the operation of the deicing boots. As we continued climbing, the peto tube froze up, and, the air speed meter indicated “O”. Now the instruments of interest was the altimeter and rate of climb meter. The engines sounded strange, I turned on the propeller deicers, and ice started bombarding the fuselage, I thought we would end up with holes in our airplane aluminum shell. The altimeter reached 14900 feet, my controls went limp, nothing worked, the altimeter reading had reached 15000 feet, and. the plane seemed to shift, we all were trying to get up to go to the back to jump, I could not move, both Dick and our radio operator were clinging together, trying to move, we were all anchored to our seats. We were mesmerized by the altimeter as it wound slowly down from 15000 ft.

As I watched the unwinding of the altimeter reading similar to a clock turning backwards, I was trying to remember every moment of memory of my wife and parents before we reached the earth, I have a hard time thinking of about that span of time.

At 3500 feet on the altimeter dial, the ice melted, and flew off the wings in large chunks. We were in vertical dive. Both Dick and I grabbed the controls, pulled on the control columns with all our strength, our speed down was no longer shown on the speed meter, I feel were at 500 mph or more, 15000 plus pounds dropping from 15000 feet vertically toward earth is a velocity unknown to me. We were both jamming the floor pedals straight legged no response. Then there was start of movement, I watched my left wing bend up, and heard the sound of crunching metal, I was afraid of losing the wings, but they held. The ground looked like a freight train coming at us as we were fought the controls, Finally the plane started to respond. We slowly came out of our dive, and, leveled out above the ground by a couple feet, if the landing gear had been down, this letter would never existed. I saw the face of a Chinese flat on the ground with a face staring at me in stark horror, and, (I will never forget seeing it). I leveled out, and started the climb back up to 1500 feet, turned to the field from which we started. The sky was clear, we had fallen between two mountains a few minutes before.

We agreed to return to our starting field, since none of us were in a mood for Shanghai at this time. The sky was blue, and, we anxious to get back on ground to try to make sense of our flight. I could not have returned to the field at the time when I reached 8000 feet, an instrument landing was impossible because the landing field was still in fog.

*****

1. The time to return to Shanghai was now, so only I and my copilot climbed aboard the C—46 that was set for us. After the exterior visual checks, we strapped on our parachutes, sat and fastened our safety straps. While my copilot read the pre flight instructions, we both checked all, and, I started the two 2000 hp. plus engines. After permission to proceed to the start of the runway, we waited for our permission to take off.
I turned on to the runway, both Dick and I depressed all four brake pedals, the 15ooo
Pound mass of airplane shook as if was going to break into a thousand pieces. Upon max rpm, we released the brakes and the plane started forward, gaining speed every second. About reaching 100 mph. I set trim tabs to elevate the plane tail to an approximate horizontal condition, and, reaching 130 mph. I started the 500 feet per minute rate of climb by trim tabs, while Dick adjusted the flaps for take off. As soon as we cleared the runway, Dick raised the landing gear. We climbed and starting turning left in a spiral circle manner until we reached 20,000 feet. While turning these climbing circles we looked at the rice paddies cut into the side of the mountain like giant steps reaching up the mountain side until it was time to plant the rice.
After reaching 20,000 feet, I set our course at the compass setting for Shanghai. We entered a mass black clouds and fog, The radio compass read 180 degrees which meant were leaving the radio tower. Out air speed was about 180 mph, I engaged the auto pilot thinking we could sit back and relax. All was well for about two hours into the flight when I lapsed into a vertigo attack, I thought the nose was diving into the mountains, and Dick fought my erratic antics. After I got control again, the auto pilot control was off, the gyro compass was spinning and we were losing our direction. We had to have a compass to obtain reachin the 50 mile radio signal at Shanghai airport. This was living in hell, we would wander until we ran out of gas and crash. If we tried to bail out, the plane would not stay level with no one controling the plane. We would have to choose which one of us would jump first.
The only way of possibly coming out alive was to find a compass. The survival kit behind our secondary parachutes should contain a hand held compass. Dick was first to get out up from his seat, remove his parachute, open his survival kit. There was supposed to be food and equipment for survival after parachuting. There was nothing left, some previous pilot had taken every thing. I had to fight to keep from panicking. Dick replaced his parachute, resumed his seat and took control of the plane. I then went thru the same as Dick to where I opened my survival kit. It too was stripped except for a plastic cylinder tube. I looked at this object and found a screw top with matches therein. I looked at the top and saw the nickel shaped compass. I clutched that compass while holding the mini compass with a grip that was like hanging on to a life-line. I took the controls while looking at the compass and setting our course, wondering if the compass was giving us a correct reading due to magnetic interference of any components in the cockpit area. I fought to keep hope and Dick’s face had the color of death. We still had at least 5 hours of flying left.
To add to our misery I saw ice forming on the wings, I immediately turned on the pulsating leading edge of the wings, and to my horror only one wing boot was working. It seemed we had more problems than we could cope with. I pushed the control column down for rapid descent. I did not know if we might hit a mountain but to stay in icing conditions meant certain loss of lift and a certain crash. We continued down to about 14,000 feet altitude where the ice stopped to form.

The rest of the time was in flying and looking at the compass, the controlling with one hand was exhausting. Then another miracle occurred, we picked up a radio signal, Dick called the control tower to clear the runway for a landing. The tower called back, agreed to keep the field open for an emergency landing. We have 1000 feet clear visibility.

I started down to 1000 feet altitude when we both could see the field. I did not approach the runway in correct army flight procedure. The correct method was to fly at 1500 ft high and parallel the runway looking at the runway at the lower left side while flying at a 180 degree heading. Turn, let down at 500 feet per minute to make a good landing. I saw the start of the runway and dove, turned to line up with the runway and made the landing.

Dick and I had to report our flight with all details. The commanding officer and a flight doctor listened and recorded our adventure. The doctor poured Dick and I a glass of medical alcohol, which was a good brand of vodka.

*****

We were on our compass setting from Kunming to Shanghai. The sky above was clear, and, the clouds below were dark, it looked like a blanket of grey ruffled blankets. I asked Dick if he would like to take the left seat and I would use the copilot seat. He liked the idea, so we switched seats.
I was listening to the radio for a signal as we approached the 50 mile signal radius of the tower radio signal. The radio compass picked up the signal, indicated our path by the gyro compass indication. Dick turned the plane until the radio compass indicated “O”, and we now started the way to the tower. I heard the instruction to let down to 1500 feet. 1500 feet is the normal altitude for making a normal landing. I waited for Dick to start the descent but he threw up both hands. I was startled, I had to take over,
I had never before made a landing from the copilot position, I was used to handle all the controls with both hands automatically, now I had to handle the controls mirror image. This was another learning experience while flying without an instructor.
I started the descent to 1500 feet, leveled out, proceeded to find and turn to the down wind direction. The wind sock confirmed my direction, I flew beyond the approach to the runway to a distance that gave me enough distance to start the left turn left. I was now in line with the runway, still at 1500 feet, when I slowed the plane to 130 mph. from 180 mph. I set the flaps, lowered the landing gear, and waited to land. It was a tough change in body contortions, I managed a safe power landing. There would never again be an exchange of seating positions. Dick and I never again discussed this flight.
*****

My orders was to report for a mission of an extended time from home base at Shanghai. Dick and I reported to our designated C-46. The plane was already loaded with some Chinese high ranking officers and US Army high ranking officers. The selected crew comprised of a radio operator, a navigator, and us to fly the plane.
The navigator gave compass setting, altitude, and said Canton is the destination.
There were two planes that were going to Canton at the same time, they also had Chinese and Army brass as passengers. The tower gave each the order of take off. All three of us where in the air, the weather at Shanghai was fine. The weather was starting to cloud up, and when the radio compass indicated the direction to the Canton field, we had been in heavy fog for the past half hour at least. I lost track of the other two planes, I called to the tower for landing instructions. I learned the field was in-between two mountains, the visibility was good about 600 feet elevation, any higher than 600 feet was dense fog. We were between mountains, and not following the next instructions would mean a crash.
The radio compass indicated a compass reading, I turned the plane until the radio compass reading was “O”. As I approached the tower, the radio compass turned to 15 degrees. This was crazy, which direction was correct to cross over the tower? I made a 180 degree turn to the left, as I was in the turn, the navigator came forward and started to yell at me for not proceeding to land, instead of wandering around the sky. I was wet from perspiration and no mood to answer him, I turned the plane until the radio compass again indicated”. Again we proceeded to the radio tower, and, again the radio compass swung 15 degrees to the left. I had to make a choice which direction was the first “O” or the “15” indication prevented the crashing into a mountain. I had all this brass on board as well as my crew. I chose the initial direction “O”, continued to the tower, and called the tower for landing instructions. I was given a compass setting to turn to, and, an altitude to fly at, the length of time to fly past the tower, continue for a given time at 180 radio compass indication, turn to a gyro compass setting given me, fly at the given direction for a given time interval, turn 180 degrees, and start the let down to the runway. I followed the tower instructions. I made a safe landing. One of our planes used the “15” degree signal, and, crashed into the side of a mountain. The third plane landed safely.
We were all set up with sleeping and eating services since we had to wait for better weather before flying to Hanoi. The remains of the personnel were found by a search party. The identity of the pilot, from his teeth, was found in his stomach remains, he used to fly for an airline in the States before coming to the air corps.
The stay was three days of hot, very humid weather. My shoes we showing mold and my uniforms were damp. I felt sad for our commanding officer of the Canton army air field. He did his best to find ways of reducing our boredom.
Finally the weather let up, an, we started our trip to Hanoi. We were the last plane to take off, and the navigator gave me compass and altitude instuctions. As soon as clearing the field, we were flying below mountains, which was a zigzag cruise, rather a fun time.
We ended at the coast line at the bay of Tonkin. I was ordered to fly up over the cloud overcast to where we were in bright blue sky, and, the clouds below looking like a dark grey blanket. I was ordered to go down into the dark fog mass. The navigator was sitting between Dick and I. He suddenly looked up from his map, and told me to immediately turn sharply to the left, we were in the heavy fog at this time. I turned sharply up into a left turn as my right wing missed the rocks by about three feet.. This trip was no fun.
I came out of the clouds as I straightened and reduced my altitude. Below I saw a mass of mud flats at the outlet of the RED RIVER. The direction the navigator was to follow the entry to the RED RIVER which would guide us to the Hanoi air port. The river is a winding 29 miles, or more, with all twists and turns. The navigator studied his map and he located the entry to the river. I let down to about 1000 feet, and, followed the navigator’s direction. I was happy that he found the way, because I was totally confused by all the mud flaps with the water canals between.
As I started following the river, the fog ceiling got lower. I slowed to 130 mph.. As we progressed along the river, the fog was now so low that I could see only about 180 feet ahead,I reduced my altitude so much that now that the power of the propellers churned the water in the river. Then stone columns appeared at the left of the plane ,so I had to bank to the right and elevate to avoid hitting the column. In the next few moments, a stone column appeared at the right and I banked sharp and up to the left. These stone columns continued to appear for about another 20 minutes as I banked left & up and down, right & up and down The navigator came up to me, and wondered if I had lost my mind. The passengers were throwing up from getting air sick, they not realize the twisting up and down was done to prevent a crash.
Finally after 94 minutes of winding our along the river, Hanoi appeared along the river. At last I could contact the tower there, get landing permission and instructions I could see French tanks and trucks lined up at the field. The French army was at the northern edge fighting the Viet cong.
We left our plane while bullets were flying by, it sounded like bees flying by us. After reaching the building, we rested, the Major from our plane, invited us to a “gombai” party, We were in for a treat. We were served hot rice wine, it was delicious, after the wine came a large bowl of fish eye soup with a ceramic spoon. I dipped the spoon, and, as I raised the spoon, the soup became a thick string of what looked like glue, I replaced the ceramic spoon while looking down into the soup, I looked at all the dead fish eyes staring back at me. I with the rest of our group, had no soup. The food continued to our table, such as fried grass hoppers, fried termites, and another fried insects, the rest of the meal was good, I was happy not to know what kind of meat was used in the dishes.
By the time the meal was ending, I had to relieve myself, I tried to get up but my legs lost feelings, I was really starting to sweat, finally after a few minutes, feeling came back, and, I was able to leave for relief.
I was anxious to leave Hanoi but had to wait for orders. The French that made their home in Hanoi, had shops of French wares, and French food, there were many young women, a mix of native and French birth. I attended a dance as an observer, the French men were dancing with the young ladies of mixed, native, and French origin. There was an aura of gloom, and I asked a person there why. I was told that the French troops were starting to retreat, the war in indo china had been going on for years, and, the Viet cong was winning, They knew the day was soon where the killing of the residents would happen, and, the dance was to try help escape the inevenable.
The following day, I was told to leave with our radio man to an army field that was on a given compass setting, where we would land, refuel,rest, and return to Shanghai. The navigator had enough of me, so no navigator for us. As we started on our way, we watched tanks and trucks leaving Hanoi and the Viet cong. I was happy leaving Hanoi, wondering if the others made it out, I saw none of the others again.
The trip to the field was uneventful, we picked up the tower signal, landed, and were given food and sleeping quarters.
We entered this old vacated Jap barn equipped with canvas beds, assigned one of them each to Dick and I. The first night was misting and damp. We were each given an army blanket. I was could, damp, could not sleep. The following morning, we saw all the manure disposal openings along the base of the walls where all the damp cold air came in to keep us cold and miserable. I left thru the stable door into the recent Jap grave yard. It must have been a hasty Jap escape, since so many did not become fully buried. I saw this hand and arm sticking out of the ground, there was black skin on the hand, and the near naked skull that seemed to belong to the arm. The black lips that pulled away from the teeth looked like the Jap was buried alive.
The breakfast took place at the outdoor army mess. The food was served on trays by a couple of unhappy soldiers wearing helmet liners and raincoats. Both Dick and I wanted to leave to Shanghai; to warm barracks, and comfortable sleeping bags. I checked with the weather officer at the tower, he said we could leave this morning. The mist was still heavy. He said his ground crew would turn our plane and position it in line with the runway. We would have heavy fog up to about 6000 feet, and, then be in the clear weather for a safe flight to Shanghai.
Dick and I agreed to the plan.
I checked the compass setting, pre-flight procedure, and started the engines, while looking at the runway, I only saw runway for about 60 feet in front of me. It was to be an instrument take off, or stay another night here. We agreed to take off, what a mistake!
It was my first, and, last instrument take off, I understand the standing orders a mandatory ceiling of 300 feet minimum for landing or take off. I maintained the compass setting while taking off .I started the 500 fpm. climb to 6000 feet. We reached 6000 feet but no clear weather. I forgot to tell you we still had our radio operator with us. I thought we would be clear, but we were now at 8000 feet, I was starting to worry, and by the looks on the faces of the other two, they were feeling the same way.
The wings were starting to pick up ice, so I started the operation of the deicing boots. As we continued climbing, the peto tube froze up, and, the air speed meter indicated “O”. Now the instruments of interest was the altimeter and rate of climb meter. The engines sounded strange, I turned on the propeller deicers, and ice started bombarding the fuselage, I thought we would end up with holes in our airplane aluminum shell. The altimeter reached 14900 feet, my controls went limp, nothing worked, the altimeter reading had reached 15000 feet, and. the plane seemed to shift, we all were trying to get up to go to the back to jump, I could not move, both Dick and our radio operator were clinging together, trying to move, we were all anchored to our seats. We were mesmerized by the altimeter as it wound slowly down from 15000 ft.
As I watched the unwinding of the altimeter reading similar to a clock turning backwards, I was trying to remember every moment of memory of my wife and parents before we reached the earth, I have a hard time thinking of about that span of time.
At 3500 feet on the altimeter dial, the ice melted, and flew off the wings in large chunks. We were in vertical dive. Both Dick and I grabbed the controls, pulled on the control columns with all our strength, our speed down was no longer shown on the speed meter, I feel were at 500 mph or more, 15000 plus pounds dropping from 15000 feet vertically toward earth is a velocity unknown to me. We were both jamming the floor pedals straight legged no response. Then there was start of movement, I watched my left wing bend up, and heard the sound of crunching metal, I was afraid of losing the wings, but they held. The ground looked like a freight train coming at us as we were fought the controls, Finally the plane started to respond. We slowly came out of our dive, and, leveled out above the ground by a couple feet, if the landing gear had been down, this letter would never existed. I saw the face of a Chinese flat on the ground with a face staring at me in stark horror, and, (I will never forget seeing it). I leveled out, and started the climb back up to 1500 feet, turned to the field from which we started. The sky was clear, we had fallen between two mountains a few minutes before.
We agreed to return to our starting field, since none of us were in a mood for Shanghai at this time. The sky was blue, and, we anxious to get back on ground to try to make sense of our flight. I could not have returned to the field at the time when I reached 8000 feet, an instrument landing was impossible because the landing field was still in fog.