Veteran Stories:
Thomas Charchuk

Air Force

  • A portrait of Thomas Charchuk taking durnig the Korean Veterans Association's "Last Hurrah" in Winnipeg in August, 2011.

    Thomas Charchuk
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"We completed 600 round trips during our entire operation, we airlifted 13,300 passengers and we carried 700 million pounds of freight and cargo."


In 1952, I was given the opportunity to re-muster for pilot’s training, which I did and I took my initial pilot’s training in Currie Field in Calgary, in 1952. Like I went to operational training in Montreal, for multi-engine training, and after that, I was transferred to the squadron, 426 Transport Squadron in 1953. And the squadron at that time was already on operations for the Korean airlift which was known as Operation Hawk. Now, the squadron got involved in the airlift in July of 1950 and on the 25th of July, they were flown at that time, three aircraft were flown to Tacoma, Washington, which was at the McChord Air Force Base and the senior officer at the United States Air Force said, well, we will give you seven days to prepare to start the airlift into Korea and Japan. And our commander, he said, well, it’ll be ready to go in 36 hours. And sure enough, on the 27th of July, three aircraft were sent out, one after another, to make their first run into Japan, into Haneda, Tokyo. At that time, we were not permitted to fly into Korea, into Seoul Kimpo [airport], which is the outside base and that was the decision made by the Canadian government. But on occasion, a special permission was given, so some of our aircraft did fly into Kimpo base but the majority of our flights on the Korean airlift were to Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan. We completed 600 round trips during our entire operation, we airlifted 13,300 passengers and we carried 700 million pounds of freight and cargo. Our operations in the Korean airlift, which is known as Operation Hawk, was completed on June the 9th of 1954. Our squadron during that time at operations, we were flying, usually the aircraft took off from Dorval, which is Montreal, and across Canada into Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and then on to McChord Air Force Base. The aircraft were loaded and they would go the northwest staging route which was the latter portion. They’d go to Anchorage, Alaska, from Anchorage, Alaska, along the Aleutian chain, to Shemya, which was about, I think it was the last island, second last island on the chain going westward. From there, they would go to Haneda Airport if the weather was favourable, the winds weren’t too strong, or they would land north of Tokyo and about two hours and 15 minutes away because of the strong winds. Now, our flight legs from McChord Air Force Base to Elmendorf air force base in Alaska would be around 7.5 hours and then close to eight hours from Elmendorf to Shemya. Now, the big long leg was from Shemya to Tokyo, that was about 10.5 hours. And our aircraft didn’t have much more endurance beyond that. So if the winds were really strong, they would land north of Tokyo at an airbase there and then about two hours from there onto Tokyo. The aircraft that we had was [Canadair] Northstar, which was, originally the air frame was a DC4, but we had four Merlin Rolls Royce engines on them. And where the American had the same airframe, they called it C-54s, but they had radial engines on them. The American aircraft were much slower in speed because they didn’t have power on it and I remember one occasion that on one of the flights, from Elmendorf, I believe Elmendorf back to McChord Air Force Base, we had an engine failure and so the Americans sent up a C-54, which was a search and rescue aircraft, just to accompany us back to McChord. And we were flying on three engines and our speed was faster than the American C-54. So we had to throttle back on three engines in order that our escort aircraft could keep up with us. So that was a bit of a humourous side of the air. For a long time, the Americans thought we had a whole fleet of airplanes. They suspected we had around 30 airplanes because we would make eight flights a month. Initially we started, we were making 15 flights a month but all we had was eight to ten aircraft. But because of the servicing and maintenance abilities that we had, we were able to keep our aircraft going.
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