Over half a century since a warplane
fell to earth, David Hardy found
THERE’S ZERO INTEREST IN THIS VILLAGE!
"It was nine o’clock in the morning when three planes came towards
us, low over the mountains from Burma" says 64 year old Wan Pengla,
pointing to the purple ridge only a few kilometres from this remote village
in the west of Chiangmai Province. "One was even lower than the others
and it’s engine was making a very strange noise."
"The pilot didn’t seem to have time to choose where he landed.
He just came in alongside our little river and put the plane down on the
rice paddies. It slid a long way on it’s belly until it slowly spun around,
facing the way it came and stopped. The pilot got out shouting ‘Nipoon,
Nipoon! Peun, peun!’ (‘Japanese! Friend!’).
He was in a terrible state, bleeding all over from wounds to his arms
and the back of his head. The plane was covered in bullet holes.
I was terrified of the pilot and the noise of the other planes circling
above us. I ran away and hid in a hole in the ground. I was only 8 years
old" chuckled ‘Uncle’ Wan.
The dramatic story from the closing months of World War II is taken
up by his 72 year old cousin Khankam Saimati - at the time a bold 16 year
"Many of us rushed up to the plane and helped the pilot. The other
two flying around above us must have seen that he was safe and then flew
off back to their base" recalls ‘Uncle’ Khankam.
"The pilot was taken to a house where his wounds were attended
to, and the village headman sent a messenger on foot - that was the only
way in those days - to the nearest town to get help from a government clinic.
The journey took about 4 days.
Some days later a party of 5 Japanese soldiers arrived. We knew they
were foreigners because they immediately stripped off all their clothes
and jumped into the river to cool off!" added ‘Uncle’ Khankam, laughing
at the memory. "They took parts off the engine and other pieces of
the plane, probably to use on other planes. Then they stuffed the body
and the wings with straw and set fire to it. Everything burned except the
engine and a few metal parts. After they had gone, together with the pilot
who had recovered, the villagers collected small parts and made them into
things like knives and weights for fishing nets. The engine was left in
the rice paddy.
When the paddy was flooded it made a very useful breeding place for
small fish. Until a young man from the village who works in Chiangmai told
us that the engine might be valuable, none of us thought anything more
about it than that!" "The propellor was thick and very heavy
and we cut it into small pieces. The end of one blade is still used as
a temple bell. The undercarriage legs didn’t seem to have any use as the
wheels had been burned. I think they’re stored in the clinic."
The end of one blade
is still used as a temple bell
How the news spread
A few weeks ago the villager now working in Chiangmai mentioned the
old aircraft engine to a friend. They agreed that it would be beneficial
for the village to sell it, but that it was an extremely difficult item
to value. A little later the topic spread to Dawn Callahan, a native of
Laos married to an American and now back in Asia to start a business largely
devoted to helping poor women and children.
"If you can find out anything about old aircraft engines, you can
start to benefit some poor villagers right away!" said the men. "Maybe
you can help to sell it?"
Dawn was intrigued by the story - and the double coincidence that she
had already named her company Eagles Wings and that some products were
destined to become airline passengers’ luggage!
Together with husband Dan, a former air crew chief with the US Air Force,
Dawn quickly decided that aeroplanes of 50 years ago were ideal images
for their new products. This went hand in hand with their strong beliefs
as Christians in transforming items of warfare into aid for under-priveleged
women and children.
The next coincidence takes some believing, but just happens to be true.
Here at ‘Good Morning Chiangmai,’ readers’ questions take many forms and
recently we were asked if there were any old planes to be found in the
jungles of Laos. "Dan, your wife comes from Laos. Would her family
know about bits of old aircraft over there?" I asked over a pad
grapow guy in Bai Bua Restaurant one day. "Well, maybe
not her family and not in Laos....." came the incredulous response!
The last link of the chain had fallen into place - and our first ever front
cover advertisement is the result!
* The engine is truly for sale (inquiries to us here at ‘Good Morning
Chiangmai’ news magazine, marked ‘Plane Engine’, please). Proceeds will
benefit village projects.
* Where is it? Everyone involved in this story co-operated on condition
that the village not be named in the media until after the sale. Serious
potential buyers can view the engine by appointment.
* A qualified Swiss engineer living in Chiangmai is willing to dismantle
the engine on behalf of a buyer if required.
* Eagle’s Wings Designs will soon employ women working at home to make
their range of aero-badged products, then establish a workshop with child-care
and schooling on site.
Next month: an update on the unfolding story of this unique sale
and the on-going project of Eagle’s Wings Designs.
Well, what exactly is it?
The quick answer is that, at time of going to press, we don’t exactly
know! The technical description is that the engine (which carries no maker’s
name) is a 9-cylinder single-row radial and we know from the witnesses
that the stricken aircraft was a Japanese monoplane.
Because of the O-OO stamps on the engine block before the number,
it could have been one of the early, less powerful Zero fighters, but by
1944 when this one crashed most of them had 14-cylinder twin-row radials.
We contacted Rick Hudnall in the United States, an authority on old
planes who was pictured in our January issue with the 1928 Travelair at
Chiangmai Air Museum, a biplane which he helped to rig for it’s maiden
flight. "This may be an early model Mitsubishi A5M, the Allied code
name for which was a ‘Claude’", reports Rick. "That model had
a Kotobuki 585hp 9-cylinder radial. It could also be a Mitsubish Army Type
92 with a similar 475hp engine. This was an observation plane, lighter
and with a lower landing speed than a fighter. The pilot would have stood
a much better chance of surviving a forced landing in this one."
Valuation? Difficult! If it was in good condition it would be extremely
valuable, but as the plane landed with "the engine making a very strange
noise" - and has since spent many years half under water - it is unlikely
to have many parts still useable. As usual in this totally unusual sale,
the highest offer wins!