Flying in comfort?
Today’s aircraft are pressurized, air-conditioned, and very comfortable to fly in. Thousands of travelers feel comfortable wearing T shirts as they settle into their seats, watch inflight movies, enjoy a meal, have a nap, and walk out when their destination arrives, without any stress.
It wasn’t always this way, though.
Then and now
During World War II, the China National Aviation Holding Company (CNAC) that was part-owned by Pan Am, flew hundreds of sorties, over the eastern Himalayas (referred to as the Hump, those days) from India to China. The Hump was a crucial route for CNAC and the Allied forces for ferrying supplies and equipment into China during the war.
Life was not easy for the (mainly American and British) pilots and the other crew. Operating from primitive air strips in eastern India, the non-pressurized aircraft had to reckon with Japanese fighter planes, high mountains, and unpredictable weather, on the way across.
Flying the DC-3 aircraft in those conditions was not comfortable either.
I quote Donald McBride, one of the CNAC pilots who flew the Hump during the period 1943-45, who wrote about the conditions.
“You would get in the airplane down in the jungle. It would be 150 degrees (I am sure he meant Fahrenheit) in the airplane with all the windows open. We didn’t mind for the first 10,000 feet because that sucked out the hot air.
The first thing we did when we got in the airplane was to take off our clothes down to our shorts, shoes and a pair of gloves. You could not touch the controls without gloves. They were too hot. After you got up to about 10,000 feet, you’d start putting your pants on. By the time you got to 15,000 feet you were putting on a fur-lined flying suit. At 20,000 you were freezing to death. I’ve seen it 55 below (must be Fahrenheit again) up there. You had a lot of things to contend with.”
That was then, and the intrepid pilots and other crew members worked in all those conditions.
We take flying comfort so much for granted today.
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