DFC [US], AM [US] (1920-2005)
Born in British Columbia to a Chinese family, Al Mah briefly lived in China during his teenage years but later returned to Canada. With war approaching, Mah went to California to learn to fly, only to be refused later by the RCAF because of his race. In 1941, he landed a civilian flying instructor’s job at the No. 2 British Commonwealth Air Training Plan School in Edmonton, working for the famous «Wop» May. In 1942, Mah was transferred to the No. 8 School in Ancienne-Lorette (Qc), operated by Quebec Airways. He later settled in Montreal.
In 1943, fearing for the safety of his family who had remained in China, Mah joined the China National Aviation Corporation. This volountary group of pilots (nicknamed the «Flying Tigers») were to maintain an invaluable airlift service over the Himalayas in support of China which was invaded by Japan. On this route «Over the Hump» as it was known (considered the most dangerous in the world), Mah flew 420 transport missions between India and China, flying unpressurized DC-3 and C-46 aircraft at nearly 20 000 feet. To ease the tension of the flights, Mah used to play saxophone over the radio frequencies ! Walking in his footsteps, his younger brother Cedric also flew the line.
While on leave in 1944, Al Mah hiked through Japanese lines into occupied China to smuggle out his 12-year-old sister (pretending to be a deaf mute to hide the fact that he didn’t speak Chinese).
In 1946, on a routine flight between North Bay and Montreal, his plane crashed, breaking both his legs and fracturing his skull. Recovering after three months, Mah joined the Central Air Transport Company, an organization supporting anti-communist Chinese forces. In 1949, Cedric and Al were the last pilots to leave Shanghai before the communist vctory. Al served again during the Korean war. In 1954, as Vice-President of the National China Aviation Association, he helped recruit pilots and raised two volunteer fighter squadrons in Taiwan. He also trained NATO pilots in Gimli, Man.
On the civilan side, Mah flew in the north on the DEW LINE project and to the James Bay region for Hydro-Quebec. Business partner with Tommy Wong (Won-Del Aviation), Mah was also a highly-rated flying instructor at the Montreal Flying Club in Cartierville. Speaking fluent French and English with his pupils, he always insisted on a thorough preflight inspection. He also warned: “Don’t fly by the book, fly to survive… and close the ashtray before doing anything fancy”. A 1982 article still described him as chief pilot with a northern air service.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame on November 13th 2008.