Asian American Pacific-Islander Transportation History: Major Arthur Chin, Pilot

Aviation pioneer Arthur Chin was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1913 to a mother with a Peruvian background and a Chinese father of Taishanese origin. Arthur Chin developed a strong interest in human flight at an early age. When he was 18, he took lessons at the Al Greenwood flying school in Portland.

In 1933, Chin headed to China to help defend his father’s homeland against Japanese military aggression. He and 13 other Chinese-American pilots joined the Canton Provincial Air Force in the province of Guangdong and became the first American volunteer combat aviators in the fight against Japan. They were eventually integrated into the larger Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) under the nation’s central government (the Kuomintang of China, or KMT).

As a ROCAF pilot, Chin distinguished himself time and time again in combat duty against Japanese pilots in the skies above China. In 1939, however, the fuel tank of the Gloster Gladiator fighter biplane that he was flying was shot up by a barrage of bullets. Chin then had to bail out of his now-burning aircraft. He parachuted to safety on the ground below but was suffering from severe burns as a result of the enemy hit. As part of his long-term recovery from those burns, Chin endured several years of surgeries. He also ended up escaping from Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation of that British Crown colony in World War II and returning to the United States to continue his recuperation.

In 1944, Chin made his way back to China to take to the skies again. As a pilot for the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), Chin flew on a regular basis over the Himalayan Mountains (in a section famously known as the Hump) to transport needed supplies from Allied bases in India to both Chinese military personnel and units of the U.S. Army Air Forces for their fight against the Japanese. These flights over the formidable Himalayas were very dangerous for Chin and the other pilots who took part in the airlifts. The flights were made all the more hazardous because of the lack of reliable charts, radio navigation aids, and adequate weather information for that part of the world.

After the war ended, Chin continued flying for CNAC for a few more years and became a fully qualified airline captain. He returned to the United States by 1950 and tried but failed to find work as a pilot with various airlines. Chin instead became a postal employee in his hometown of Portland. He remained with that federal service until retiring in 1980.

A half-century after World War II ended, Chin was formally recognized by the U.S. government for his heroic accomplishments as an American-born flying ace and awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his military service. About a month after Chin died in 1997, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, Texas.

For more information on Arthur Chin and other Asian-Americans who have made noteworthy contributions to aviation, please check out http://sandiegoairandspace.org/exhibits/online-exhibit-page/asian-americans-in-aviation.

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