The early summer of 1945 found me in Kunming, China - a second lieutenant C-47 pilot assigned to the Twenty-Seventh Troop Carrier Squadron.

    At that date our primary job was to pick up war supplies that the Air Transport Command had flown into India and distribute to Chinese/American field teams scattered all over China - many behind enemy lines.  We often dropped teams by parachute and, if possible, land on grass strips bringing out the injured or sick personnel.

    On the day in question, I had just returned from a drop mission arriving at Kunming about 4:00 p.m. on a clear ideal summer day. I had been reloaded and was ready to return to our base at Chengkung and call it a day. The plane, would the next day, be sent out with a different crew.

    I called Kunming tower for taxi to # 1 take off clearance.  He replied “Army 1,2,3, you’re cleared to # 1 - call when ready to go.” I started engines and began to roll slowly out onto the taxi strip.  Number 1 position was about 3/4 miles away. I had plenty of time to warm up, make my CIGFTPETT check and take a look around the field.  We were the only plane in motion. My thoughts were - this is great, I will get back in plenty of time to clean up and get a hot supper.

    We had not rolled a hundred feet when tower called “all aircraft hold your position! We have a “Daisy” on the field!” I stopped where I was and locked the brakes.  I switched to inter-com, called my radio operator inquiring if he had his code book for the day? “Oh yes sir,” he replied inquiring what the word “Daisy” meant. After a short delay he replied “Sir, it’s not too clear to me; all it says here is ‘Viceroy of India’ whatever that means.  I thought of all the bad luck – Lord Mountbatten was either due in or leaving, and we could sit for hours. I was going to kill the engines but changed my mind.  Being a hot day we opened the windows and vents as much as we could. Our cargo door had been removed for kicking of supplies thus we did have some ventilation.

    We hadn’t sat there two minutes when we heard a far off rumbling noise.  We knew it was an aircraft but where.  We could see nothing yet the noise was getting louder and louder very fast.  Then the ear piercing scream of geared blowers had cut in and still we saw nothing. I was actually frozen in fear of the unknown for an instant.  Then, with a fantastic fiery, roaring scream the monster was upon us.  A huge, jet black, 4-engine AVRO Lancaster passed me on the left not 30 feet away traveling at least 60 miles per hour.  It rocked our C-47 so violently I thought he had hit us. His wing tip must have passed over ours with no contact.  The 15 foot yellow orange fire plumes from his Merlin engines in auto rich seemed to come right in my window. I know the dirt, stones and dust did.

    When I realized we were OK, I remembered that the British pilots dearly loved to scare the pants off us Yanks whenever they could - in the air or on the ground. He had to be a Battle of Britain veteran as he did a fine job on us as he knew within inches how close he could come to a C-47. He had to be one of the best - how else would he be Mountbatten’s personal pilot?

    He pulled into # 1 take off and did his mag checks right on the runway.  Any of our pilots would have been rounded for such action.  I had never seen such a beautiful aircraft. It was a shinny simonized black with not a thumb print anywhere.

    The tower broke in with “Aircraft in # 1 you are cleared to go when ready.” About 10 seconds later, another voice came on: “Kunming Tower, I have a loaded C-46 on single engine emergency for a straight in approach to runway 18.”  The tower fired back “Charlie 46 pull it up and go around; we have a Daisy on the field.” I though oh boy, I’ve got to see this.  I was parked facing # 1 and had a perfect panoramic view of Montbatten’s Lancaster and any other plane for miles around.

    Almost immediately the big Lancaster roared into action and began its take off roll. I could not see the C-46 and all seemed okay. Then very, very low and very close I spotted him - a new bright aluminum 46 with wheels down, the right engine feathered, and a cylinder jug sticking half way through its cowling.  I saw no attempt to pull it up and go anywhere. He was only coming down and in – an very fast.  I could see they were going to meet about 3 0r 4 hundred feet down the runway.  I grabbed my microphone, and in a frantic voice shouted, “Lancaster, hold your position; that 46 is right on your back.  I saw the main gear wheels lock instantly.  He pitched down hard and skidded about 10 or 15 feet to a stop. His momentum raised the fuselage to an almost horizontal position and the tail wheel left the ground a foot or more.  Upon coming to a stop, his tail fell back with a sudden thump and large cloud of dust. Anyone in the rear section had to take a fantastic bump that they would never forget.

    The C-46 continued straight in and hit about 50 feet in front of the now standing Lancaster. He made what we jokingly called an “ATC three point.  I never knew a C-46 could hit the ground so hard and not break up.  His main gear vibrated fore and aft about 2 feet. He bounced four or five feet then rolled down the runway.

    The radio was strangely silent since I had shouted my warning. The tower, the Lancaster, and the C-46 said nothing. I had the feeling I was going to catch it bad for butting in.  Then the tower radioed “Charlie 46 clear the runway to the right at the next taxi strip.” The tower then said “Aircraft # 1 you may go when ready.”  The British pilot poured the coal on that big aircraft and got airborne, wheels up and out over the lake in seconds.  He must have had a belly full of us “Yanks” that day.

    The tower then radioed “Aircraft 123 you’re cleared to number one take off. I replied “Wilco” and popped the breaks off, pulled into position, did my run up and took off for Chengkung.

    I never heard another word about the day’s activity which suited me fine. I just did what I thought had to be done and all concerned seemed to be satisfied to let it go at that.

    I doubt if the “Supreme Allied Commander of South/East Asia” ever learned of how close he came to his last airplane ride. I’ve often wondered how his pilot explained that terrific bump they got at Kunming.


Buda Texas
2 February 1998