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Intrepid pilots recreating World War II 'Hump' air route

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A group of Australian and American pilots and engineers are in the process of recreating one of the great Allied World War II aviation triumphs. Seventy-one years after the close of hostilities, they are flying an original but lovingly refurbished 1944 Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft back over 'The Hump' — an iconic air supply route used during the war to send desperately needed men and materiel into southwestern China.

While not recreating the exact path taken by pilots flying in the war, the team of Dale Mueller (pilot, USA), Alan Searle (pilot, AUS), Larry Jobe (pilot, USA), Tom Claytor (pilot, USA) and Barry Arlow (engineer, AUS) are flying a plane christened 'Buzz Buggy' "to honor those men who served to bring victory and peace, and to the friendships between nations today that are charged with keeping [that] peace".

A Curtiss C-46 Commando flying 'The Hump' over the Himalayas during World War II
A Curtiss C-46 Commando flying 'The Hump' over the Himalayas during World War II

Their flight began in August from Bathurst Airport in New South Wales. The planned schedule included stops at Australian airfields Longreach and Darwin before heading to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and finally China. However, while flying from Bali to Jahor, Malaysia, catastrophe nearly ended the endeavor entirely. In the words of the crew:

One hour and 30 minutes into the flight, smoke appeared coming from the left engine. After 15 seconds, the engine started to vibrate severely, then fire appeared. We shut down the engine and diverted to Surabaya, 25 minutes away. Indonesian air traffic control was very helpful and we landed safely.

Finding replacement parts — of an engine no less — for a seven-decade old plane was no small feat. Nor is navigating the storm of red tape involved in securing permission to take off and land in half-a-dozen countries with sometimes tenuous political ties. Nonetheless, new parts secured and installed, Buzz Buggy's crew have once again taken to the skies and are approaching Kunming, expecting to land at Changshui International Airport on the afternoon of October 15.

A stop in the Spring City is a necessity, as Yunnan's capital received a huge share of the 650,000 tons of materiel flown over The Hump during the war. Those airlifts involved the United States Army Air Forces, the joint British-Indian Army, Commonwealth Forces, and the nascent China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), all of which were augmented by Burmese and Chinese military and civilian workers.

Losses during the airlift — which was carried out in one form or another and with varying participation from Allied forces between April 1942 and August 1945 — were immense. More than 1,659 Allied forces were killed or went missing during the mission, and 594 aircraft were shot down, damaged beyond repair or otherwise lost.

Despite the crucial role The Hump airlift played in pulling China and parts of Southeast Asia away from the abyss of complete collapse, the mission remains less well-known than other major East Asian war fronts. And this fact is one of the main reasons the crew of Buzz Buggy have persevered. Now, their final destination — Guilin (桂林) — is finally in sight after weeks of delays.

Once the crew reach Guilin, Buzz Buggy will take up permanent residence at the city's Flying Tiger Heritage Park and Museum where General Claire Chennault once maintained a base of operations. There, the aircraft will be repainted, with "China-Burma-India markings on one side and CNAC markings on the other," according to the flight's website.

Editor's note: Rebuilding Buzz Buggy's engine was costly, and flight sponsor the Flying Tigers Organization is looking for donations to cover the US$60,000 endeavor. If you would like to donate, please visit the crowd-sourcing page at GoFundMe. Special thanks to historian Philip Van Zandt, who has kept the team at GoKunming up-to-date through every stage of the flight.

Top image: Claytor.com
Second image: AOPA
Third image: European Center of Military History
Bottom image: Ramsburyatwar

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Flying Tigers, (flying over Yunnan) what a great name. Was it Chennault who came up with this name? Probably not. Anyone out there who knows who came up with this name and the story behind the name?

The men at China Defence Supplies (In Washington) had asked Walt Disney studio to design a unit emblem. A Dragon was the obvious choice. David Corcoran suggested a tiger instead, and that met with general agreement. The request went to Hollywood and in October two Disney employees- Rot Williams and Henry Potter- sketched a darling Bengal cat with wasplike wings and extended claws, leaping from a V-for-Victory sign.

From Daniel Ford; Flying Tigers, Claire Chennault and his American volunteers, 1941-1942.

Thanks Lemon.

Tiger was much more suitable than a dragon. Maybe David knew that or maybe he didnt.

Hang on. Wasn't the primary route from Assam to Yunnan? Why are they flying to Kunming then Guilin? Aren't they going to fly the most important point, the actual 'hump' across the Himalayas to India? After flying all the way from Australia, not doing the real route would seem a massive cop-out.

They did. Mandalay in Myanmar is on the other side of the Hump.

They never really flew over the Himalayas. The routes were over the Gaoligong Shan and Nu mountains which climb up to the real Himalaya's.
They should have flown from Dinyan in India. Even Mandalay was not part of the Hump route either. That should be Myitkyina. But their route seems to be dictated by where they still can find AVGAS (Hight octane aviation fuel).

Right. The shorter/'real'/'high' hump route from which the name derives was to upper Assam / Dinjan over the Kachin lands. Mandalay seems close to flying the second half of the longer/'low' hump route from Calcutta. Sad they couldn't make this happen. Maybe the China connection was a bit bureaucratically touchy in India, where communist era China marched an army!

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