Eastern Aviation, Wallace Harper – Hong Kong Aviation Entrepreneur
Our recently posted article, Harpers – the Family, the Dealership and the first 50 years of Ford automobiles in Hong Kong, mentions, “In 1931, Wallace [Harper]went into the aviation business by accident…” I asked IDJ, our go-to contributor on matters relating to the history of aviation in Hong Kong. It took him a while, to search through his archives but eventually his perseverance paid off and he sent the following article about the exploits of Wallace Harper in Hong Kong and China before Mr Harper settled down to the presumably quieter life of selling Ford vehicles. Many thanks IDJ.
Wallace Harper – Aviation Entrepreneur
Wallace Harper came to Hong Kong from the United States, and started an automobile business in 1927. In 1931 he visited Kunming to sell trucks to the military.
“I sold some trucks, and using an aviation magazine I borrowed, I also sold six Arrow Sport training planes. I knew nothing about planes and didn’t even know how to fly, but I signed a contract and agreed to teach sixteen of the air force cadets to fly.”
Later he travelled to the United States to close the deal with the Arrow Aircraft Corporation and arrange for shipment of the aircraft to China – at the same time persuading the company to provide a seventh plane to use as a demonstrator in Hong Kong. Arrow’s chief engineer Jim Fisher agreed to accompany the shipment, assemble the aircraft, and teach the Chinese cadets to fly. Harper met Leigh Wade, one of the US Army Around-the-World-Flight pilots (see Chapter Five). who taught him to fly. Soloing after only 3 hours and 10 minutes, he was declared a born flier.
In late 1931 he returned, and some months later Fisher arrived with the seven Arrow Sports. Fisher took six of the planes to China where he assembled them and taught the cadets to fly, while Harper obtained his Hong Kong Private Pilot’s Licence (No. 15, dated 11 May 1932). By 1932 the effects of the Depression were biting hard in the United States, and Harper persuaded Fisher to join him in a new Hong Kong venture – the American Eastern Aviation Co. Harper records an interesting anecdote of the time:
Fisher was summoned to Canton to see General Wong Kwong Yui about buying more planes. When he was closeted with the General he was told that the Governor of Kwangtung, General Chan Chai Tong, who was plotting against Chiang Kai Shek, was planning to make a prisoner of General Wong who was loyal to Chiang. Fisher was asked if he would fly the general to Hong Kong. Jim sent a trusted emissary, named Kwan Wing, to me in Hong Kong with a note telling me what was in the wind. The note said he planned to fly the general to Hong Kong early the next morning, landing at a fairway on Fanling golf course, and asked me to meet them with a car. I left home at 5.30 a.m. with my clubs, picked up Kwan Wing and drove to Fanling. Jim, flying one of Canton Air Force Fleets we had sold them, arrived on schedule and landed near the edge of the fairway where the car was parked. Abandoning the plane, he and the general ran to the car and we all drove to Castle Peak where we dropped off the General, now in mufti, to make his way with Kwan Wing by bus into Kowloon.
The splendid photo shown below accompanied the article.
Wallace Harper with one of his Arrow Sport biplanes in May 1932. Haper sold aircraft in China in the 1930s and later became a well-known Ford dealer in Hong Kong.
- Wings over Hong Kong: a tribute to Kai Tak: an aviation history 1891-1998, The Hong Kong Historical Aircraft Association, Odyssey Books, 1998
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