In addition to telling the WWII tale of the men who flew the India-China flight path over the Himalaya Mountains in the worst weather in the world—piloting transport aircraft never designed to do such things—the book touches on the early days of the Army Air Forces Tenth Weather Squadron.
The squadron had the responsibility of providing weather support for over twelve million—yes, million—square miles. The squadron’s commander, Lt. Col. Dick Ellsworth, flew a C-47 named Betsy (with a cartoon Donald Duck painted on its nose).But despite the violent meteorological conditions that stalked the towering mountains, Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault of Flying Tigers fame in China thought “balloon blowers,” as he called weather troops, were worthless.
So the men who flew the Hump, the Himalayas, had to battle more than just the violent winds and weather that assailed the jagged peaks. They had to deal with senior officers who saw no value in weather support. They also had to put up with fighter and bomber aviators who viewed transport pilots as being averse to combat.
But the men who tackled the snaggletooth mountain range laid that notion to rest. They left an “aluminum trail” of mangled aircraft and mutilated bodies in the Himalayas and adjacent Burmese jungles along the most dangerous air route ever conceived.
Lt. Col. Ellsworth tackled the weather-support naysayers head-on and became one the most respected officers in Air Weather Service history. It’s a fascinating sub-story tucked into WHEN HEROES FLEW: THE ROOF OF THE WORLD.