The following excerpts are from Frank Losonsky’s book
“Flying Tiger – A Crew Chief’s Story”
March 5 – 8, 1942
“Pappy” Boyington’s flight crash lands in Wenshan, China.
When Stan (Regis) and I returned to Kunming, we were told the 2nd Squadron had lost four aircraft near Wenshan near the Indochina border. All had crashed landed in a rice paddy. The aircraft were escorting the Generalissimo and his wife, the Madame, up to Chungking. About half way up the flight leader, Boyington, turned the flight back because of low fuel and bad weather. Unfortunately the P-40s ran out of gas and crash landed just a few miles from the Japanese.
The pilots survived, but the “old man” (Chennault) was plenty steamed over losing the four ships. As I recall our line Chief asked Regis, myself, and Major Chen, a Chinese interpreter, to salvage the ships before the natives cut the remains up for pots and pans. We checked out a 6×6 flatbed truck, a jeep, tools, some spare props, and some other assorted parts taken from the “graveyard.”
En route to Wenshan we stopped at a small village for the night. The village was run by a local war lord who invited us to spend the night with him. In one of the rooms was an old Chinese man close to death. Next to him was a casket, a lit candle, and a small bowl with an egg on top of some rice. I later learned the egg symbolized rebirth in the Hindu religion.
March 11, 1942
By the time we arrived at the crash site, the coolies had pulled the aircraft out of the muck. It was a wonder the pilots survived. A true testimonial to their piloting skills and the P-40 construction. The C model was built in two pieces and joined at the centerline. The joint where the two wing sections connected acted as a skid in case of a “belly” landing. Two aircraft were wrecked beyond repair. The landing was a mess, the props were bent, and the hydraulics were questionable. We replaced the props with spares and fixed the landing gear as best we could. Next we cut a narrow take-off strip right down through a cemetery, by a rice paddy, down an embankment, and off the end of a cliff. The Chinese built the strip in two days. The strip was just long enough to get a “light” P-40 off. We removed the pilot’s armor plate and most of the gas.
March 16, 1942
On or around March 15, Boyington arrived. I’m not sure why he volunteered to fly the aircraft out. We could have easily “hauled” them back to Kunming. I do know Chennault was pretty steamed about losing the four aircraft. As Boyington puts it in his book, Baa Baa Black Sheep, after he crashed the aircraft he returned to a “cold” Kunming reception. “I volunteered to fly them out if we could get them fixed.”
We put thirty gallons of gas into the tank, barely enough to get him home. I was sure the aircraft would fly, but had no idea if the brakes or landing gear would work and at the time I didn’t have the equipment to do the checks. I told Boyington he was going to have to put the coals to it and fly it “gear down” all the way. I just didn’t trust the hydraulics. We moved the aircraft to the absolute end of the strip. Pappy started the engine, barely warmed it up, and pushed it full throttle. He had the engine screaming. “Pushed the throttle forward ’till the manifold pressure was well into the red. Plane flew nose high for a mile ’til it leveled out.” I remember he was barely flying when he hit the end of the strip. The rest of his trip was uneventful. I marvel how he flew those aircraft off that mountain strip.
Pappy stayed in Kunming a day before returning to pick up the second ship. That night we tipped a couple of glasses of rice wine together. Greg left the AVG soon after he salvaged the two aircraft.