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Flying the Hump
Written October 23, 2005


Among the memorabilia that my father brought back with him from his service in World War II was this map.  Unfolded, it turns out to be an aeronautical chart, taped together from parts of three charts to form a document nearly four feet wide.

My father was not himself a flier.  He must have gotten the chart from one of the airmen who flew out of his base and for whom he handled the finances.

That base was near Chabua in northeastern India.  From there, airplanes ferried supplies 500 miles across the Himalayas in northern Burma to Kunming in southern China.  Black lines inked on the chart indicate several alternate flight plans between those two points.  One line branches off to Yunnanyi.  This town, on a high plateau in China, apparently had an alternate landing strip in case a plane couldn't make it all the way.

Below is a closer look at the western end of the map, around Chabua (circled).  Compared to modern aeronautical charts, there isn't much detail; in particular, no notations of radio beacons.  The fliers must have had to navigate by landmarks, dead reckoning, and compass.  (On the main air route headed northeast, the handwritten notation "66 11 M." might indicate a heading of 66 degrees 11 minutes.)

And below is what the verdant Assam Valley looks like today from a simulated altitude of 8500 feet, using Google Earth (with vertical dimensions tripled).  The Himalayan Mountains are in the background.  In the middle distance is the broad, island-dotted Brahmaputra River.  The purple lines indicate a railroad, with spurs leading to the various tea plantations in the area.

The city of Chabua, with a 2011 population of 77,230, is marked by the red dot on the right.  Its airstrip is in the foreground.  The Indian Air Force now flies Russian-made Sukhoi-30 jet fighters out of this base. 

When the war was over, my father left Chabua by air on October 15, 1945, flying west to Karachi where he transferred to a ship bound for home.  Other returning servicemen followed his route.

But even in times of peace, life remains uncertain.  Sixty years afterward, a man named Jim O'Callaghan posted this note on the Internet:

I'm looking for anyone that remembers the crash of C54-G 528A.  It left Chabua India early on 3 November 1945 to bring 44 men to Karachi where they were to obtain transport home.  It crashed in Bhutan and was not found until a month later.

For the rest of the story of my father's stay in India, click here.



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