The CNAC Story
The China National Aviation Corporation
The China National Aviation Corporation played a significant role in the
history of modern China. Originally a partnership between the Chinese government
and the Curtiss-Wright corporation, the airline became a part of the Pan
American Airways empire in 1933.
Surmounting massive technical problems, CNAC established the first air routes
in China, connecting the commercial center of Shanghai with Canton, Peking and
the cities along the Yangtze River.
Following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, CNAC remained
China's sole means of speedy communications with the outside world. Operating
conditions were extremely hazardous because the airline was forced to fly under
the worst possible circumstances to avoid Japanese attack.
Before America's entry into the Pacific war, CNAC pioneered the famous route
over the Hump between China and India. When the Burma Road was cut off by the
Japanese Army during WWII, this route became the only source of outside supply
for China. CNAC's operation of an airlift over the Hump became the most glorious
chapter in a notable history.
It was the world's first major airlift, and it was a pilot's nightmare.
The 500-mile route traversed some of the most treacherous country in the
world. Flying with few or no radio aids over inadequately charted areas, under
constant harassment from enemy fighters, CNAC pilots had not even the
satisfaction of being able to shoot back. Their C-47s and later C-46s were
In the early days of WWII, CNAC also provided airlift for the AVG,
transporting personnel and supplies to and from the various Flying Tigers bases.
To fly pilots to India on their way to pick up new planes for the AVG and CAF,
CNAC provided the service. General Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders who landed in
China, were flown across the Hump on the beginning of their journey home.
In addition to its regular commercial operations, CNAC carried military
supplies between India and China under a Chinese Government contract arrangedin
1942 with the U.S. Army, which supplied Douglas C-47 and C-53 planes and later,
Curtiss C-46 transports.
During the war, CNAC and the U.S. Army Air Transport Command carried
approximately 10 and 90 percent, respectively, of the total lend-lease supplies
flown across the Hump. From April 1942, when the Burma Road was lost, to April
1945, CNAC made more than 35,000 trips over the Hump. In 1944 it flew almost
9,000 round trips, or 10,000,000 miles, over this route, transporting
approximately 35,000 tons of lend-lease, and also strategic materials.
During the war it also transported to Northwest China considerable amounts of
strategic materials destined for Russia. Carrying 38 percent of all strategic
air cargoes on world routes in 1944, CNAC ranked second only to the Air
Transport Command, which carried 57 percent.
CNAC also played an important role in the Burma campaign by dropping food to
Chinese expeditionary forces, evacuating besieged Chinese and British troops,
and supplying the Ledo Road project with men, equipment, medical supplies and
food. Between October 22, 1944 and January 21, 1945, it made 523 trips, dropping
1,836,970 pounds of rice to roadbuilders.
To fill their ranks, CNAC added many Tiger pilots to their number when the
AVG was disbanded, as well as other commercial pilots recruited in the United
States and China. Some of the new pilots never had flown anything bigger than a
Cub. Most of them never had been at the controls of multi-engine equipment nor
were they familiar with instrument flying.
Now they were called upon to fly day and night over the world's roughest and
highest terrain in all kinds of weather 16 to 20 hours daily.