National Geographic : 1938 May
FOUR THOUSAND HOURS OVER CHINA BY CAPT. HANS KOESTER With Illustrations from Photographsby the Author BY AN odd trend of destiny it has been my lot to fly planes over Europe, Africa, both the Americas, and Asia. Getting acquainted with first one strange land and then another brought in each case its own peculiar joys and satisfactions. But to me China, over whose ancient places and chattering millions I flew for four years with mail and passengers and bombs and other things, must always re main the land of incomparable fascination. Some of the sights which unfolded below as I flew up and down the vast hinterland of that inscrutable country still seem almost incredible. To shake off the feeling that I must be dreaming, I have to look, time and again, at the photographs I took-photographs not only of some of my human freight, but of graceful Chinese temples, of floods such as Noah saw, and of dry, empty wastes curiously suggestive of pictures of the water less moon. HAZARDS INCLUDE DUST, HAILSTONES, BULLETS In those four eventful years of odd ad ventures and unfamiliar scenes, I carried almost every conceivable kind of human being, from generals, diplomats, and "big butter-and-egg" Orientals to lamas and other holy men-and once a full cargo of giggling, perfumed singsong girls. Often we fought through blinding dust storms of appalling range and choking den sity; we flew over one region devastated by hailstones of almost unbelievable size. Many times I was shot at from the ground. One of my fellow pilots was shot down. Some died in other catastrophes. Without night flying equipment, radio beams, or trustworthy weather reports, much of this pioneer China flying called not only for maximum quick thinking, but for luck, and yet more luck. It was only luck, for example, that often saved us from col lision with junks that swarm the Yangtze when, forced down on the river by terrific rainfall, we had to turn our bouncing am phibian into a taxi and roar along for miles over the yellow, angry flood. My first job was with the China National Aviation Corporation, a subsidiary of the Curtiss-Wright Exploration group, flying the run up the Yangtze River between Shanghai and Hankow (map, page 574). In pioneering this route, we used Loening amphibians, single-motored ships carrying eight passengers in addition to the pilot and a Chinese co-pilot. Part of my duty was to train native flyers. I found they made excellent fair-weather pilots, but were apt to lose their heads in bad weather or emergencies. All were friendly and grateful for the little advice I gladly gave them, and I could scarcely save myself from the numerous Chinese dinner parties to which they later invited me. YANGTZE JUNKS HAMPER FLYING Winter on the Yangtze, with fog, rain, and snow, makes for bad flying. Often visibil ity was poor. To keep on our path in storms we had to fly very low over the yellow flood; often with almost a zero ceiling, we actually dodged around a constant stream of junks. Instead of the scheduled six hours, this flight frequently took ten or twelve. On one stormy trip I had to land on the river six times, and then taxi along with the throttle half open, in motorboat fashion. One Christmas Eve, when we had to alight on the Yangtze and taxi up its tributary, the Whangpoo, to reach Shanghai, we found that stream as crowded with junks as Broad way is with automobiles. Rain turned into snow and visibility into nothing. On the Shanghai water front, be fore the Cathay Hotel in the dark, I hit a junk with my wing and had to run for shore lest we sink. LOST, WITH A LOAD OF BOMBS When later I joined the German-Chinese Eurasia Aviation Corporation, one of my first jobs was to carry bombs for Chiang Kai-shek in his long war against the Chinese Communist armies. After one such trip to Honanfu, south of the Yellow River, we turned back for Shanghai. Delayed by fuel troubles, I saw that we could not make it before dark. The plane was equipped with radio, but the ground crew, still unfamiliar with these new aids to navigation, could give us prac tically no help.