Some months ago, Sherri graciously shared a picture of her Dad, Sam Sledge, for inclusion with our WWII Fathers collection. In his youth, Mr. Sledge was an Army Air Force Pilot, which wasn’t a terribly uncommon occupation within his generation…there were about 250,000 of them trained for service during the war and a few of our EH fathers had served in various WWII Air Force assignments, mostly in England. The thing that was uncommon about Mr. Sledge was his line assignment after he graduated from flight school; Sam Sledge flew the Hump.
The Brahmaputra (Assam) valley floor lies ninety-feet above sea level at Chabua. From this level, the mountain wall surrounding the valley rises quickly to 10,000 feet and higher.
Severe weather existed on the Hump almost year around. The monsoon season, with heavy cloudiness, fierce rain and embedded severe thunderstorms with turbulence severe enough to damage aircraft, existed from around May into October of each year. The late fall and winter flying weather was better with many VFR days. However, heavy ground fogs, with ground visibilities down to zero/zero, occurred almost nightly during the early winter, and severe thunderstorms still occurred over the route on an irregular basis. Winter winds aloft were extreme, often exceeding 100 MPH. Regulations required that oxygen be used above 12,000 MSL during daytime and above 10,000 MSL at night.
When General William H. Tunner arrived, pilots rotated out after 650 hours of flying time. Many pilots were flying as much as 165 hours a month in order to pile up the time and go home quickly. General Tunner's flight surgeon reported that fully half of the men were suffering from operational fatigue. Several accidents stemmed directly from such fatigue. General Tunner immediately increased to one year the time a pilot would remain in the theater. He also increased the number of flying hours to 750.
"It didn't make the pilots happy," the General wrote later, "but . . . it kept quite a few of them alive."
The Curtiss C-46 Commando. Known to the men who flew them as "The Whale," the "Curtiss Calamity," the "plumber's nightmare", and among ATC crews, the "flying coffin," the C-46 served a similar role as its counterpart, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, but was not as extensively produced. At the time of its production, the C-46 was the largest twin-engine aircraft in the world, and the largest and heaviest twin-engine aircraft to see service in World War II.
It's 150-knot cruise speed was about 11-knots faster than the C-47. Fitted with two, 2000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines, the C-46 had a service ceiling of 24,500 ft. With an average terrain height ranging from 12,000-16,000 ft. carrying a maximum load into turbulence, darkness, and bad weather, there was very little margin of safety. These were very harrowing flight conditions.
Pilots were drawn from several sources; USA flight schools and commercial airline pilots among them. Training before deployment was accomplished from a Reno, Nevada, AAF base. Flying over the Sierra-Nevada terrain to Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base in California (now Travis AFB), was very similar to that found in the Himalayas.
A 1945 Chart showing the "Hump Routes" and all the facilities information is below. Of interest is the essential information of all the various airfields in the area. Chabua had an 8000' runway, was 370' MSL, with runway headings of 49º – 229º.....Kunming - had a 7218' runway, sitting at 6240' MSL.
Living conditions in the Assam Valley were primitive. Personnel generally lived in tents or bamboo bashas. The Flying Tigers had been operating in the Kunming area since 1937 and had received a lot of publicity. The following very rare color pictures were taken in and around Kunming in 1945 and show some of the contemporary scenes Lt. Sam Sledge could have seen while he was there.