The section of NPR's The Flying Tigers: How a group of Americans ended up fighting for China in WW II includes the following:

Burma was central to keeping China supplied

The AVG's base was in Kunming in southwestern China, far from areas under Japanese occupation.

There was a hitch to being there, however — no runways to land planes.

So thousands of Chinese built them by hand. "The Chinese people — the peasants, the working class people in particular, also — volunteered to help to build those runways and airports and also provide services to the American pilots," Tam tells NPR. "They didn't have any tools, modern tools. They used their bare hands, actually, to build those runways."

Meanwhile, the Americans did some training at a British airfield in Burma, the country now called Myanmar.

Their early training was not particularly successful. The pilots had far less experience than Chennault had wanted. Three pilots died and planes and equipment were damaged in various accidents.

The article contains more discussion as well.

There must have been a process by which the locations for these runways were selected for both logistical reasons and for suitability as a location for a runway (flatness, possibility of being made smooth, local weather and winds, etc.) and for the design and layout of the runway itself, including its direction with respect to prevailing winds and the safety and suitability of the directions of approach.

Question: What engineers chose the locations and oversaw runway construction for the airfields that the Flying Tigers used?

They could have been potentially Chinese, Burmese, American or British or some combination thereof, but presumably the engineering effort was overseen by some well-defined subset.

1 Answer 1


The journal Army History has a fairly lengthy article, The Construction of US Army Airfields in China during World War 2, by Raymond E. Bell Jr. It mentions the airbase at Kunming your article discusses, as well as several individuals involved in the airbase engineering throughout the war:

The construction of the Kunming air base as at all other American and Chinese airfields in Nationalist Chinese territory was done by Chinese civilian contractors and peasants under US Army engineer supervision While most of the laborers were local Chinese many others came from far away At Kunming for example workers who came from remote highlands a long distance from the work sites were identified as not being local by their Mongolian features and dark skin

No specific individuals mentioned there, however, and Kunming may have been before some of the following individuals got involved. This mention definitely concerned Kunming though:

On 4 July 1942 1st Lt Francis C. Card established the engineer section of the Army's Advance Section Service of Supply SOS in China the section's sole member Card set work to have the Chinese improve Kunming airfield while at the time he planned for new fields near the city

later on...

...At the same time the involvement of US Army engineers in the actual business of construction was minimal They performed no manual labor but rather designed the fields and provided overall supervision of the work It was not until early in 1944 however before there was the beginning of a comprehensive Army engineer design and supervisory framework to oversee construction During this time frame SOS Advance Sections 3 and 4 were transferred to Chennault's control The work fell to the 5308th Air Service Area Command with Col Henry A Byroade assigned as project engineer The area command organized three districts one encompassing the many airfields around Kunming one constructing B 29 airfields for the Twentieth Air Force at Cheng tu and the third constructing fields for the Fourteenth Air Force in eastern China

Another officer is also mentioned:

One of the few US Army officers involved in supervising the construction of air bases in eastern China was Capt Robert Belknap. Initially involved petroleum delivery construction India he was one of the officers out of Burma with Stilwell in March 1942 Eventually was charged with fuel resource distribution to the Chinese under the lend lease program As an Army engineer however he helped with the some thirteen airfields in China all of which but one eventually fell to the Japanese in their 1944 1945 ground offensive

The article goes on for several pages and even has a grainy image of the laborers working on one of the airfields. enter image description here

  • Not to mention that the Kunming airfield was originally built in 1923 and by 1937 was the home of Nationalist Chinese Central Aviation Academy. Most of the major expansion during the war years took place after the AVG "Flying Tigers" (those who wanted to go with the USAAF) was absorbed into the 14th Air Force.
    – R Leonard
    Dec 20, 2021 at 20:22

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