Biographical / Historical
William Clifford "Mac" McDonald (1906-1984) received his first airplane ride at age 14 from his neighbor, World War I ace, James "Jimmy" Meissner. After attending college at Washington and Lee University (Lexington, VA) and Howard College (Birmingham, AL), McDonald joined the 106th Observation Squadron of the Alabama National Guard, where he was an airplane mechanic. McDonald decided he wanted to be a pilot, and in May 1930 he was appointed as a US Army Air Corps Flying Cadet at Brooks Field, Texas. In 1931, McDonald was assigned to the 94th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan, and by June 1932 he had completed his active duty, graduated, and was released from the Army Air Forces. As McDonald was unable to find a job as a civilian pilot, he soon reenlisted in the Army so that he could join Claire Chennault's newly formed Army aerial aerobatics team, "Men on the Flying Trapeze." From 1932 to 936 the aerobatics team participated in numerous air shows. Through William Pauley, president of Central Aviation Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), the aerobatic team pilots met with Chinese Air Force General Mow Pang-Tsu who, impressed with their performance, invited them to come to China to train Chinese pilots in the American military flying style. MacDonald and his teammate John H. "Luke" Williamson, resigned from the Army Air Corps and accepted the offer and left for China during the summer of 1936, with Chennault following in 1937. McDonald became the senior American Instructor for the Central Aviation School, located outside Hanghow, China. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek headed the Chinese Commission on Aeronautics Affairs and was the real power behind the aviation school. During the fall of 1936, McDonald was also assigned to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's squadron and several times served as his pilot on military business. After four years training Chinese pilots, McDonald resigned from the school and started with the Chinese National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) ferrying vital supplies in China for the Chinese Air Force, Chennault's American Volunteer Group "Flying Tigers," and then the 14th Air Force. By mid-1943, McDonald was the Operations Assistant in Calcutta, India, and by the end of the year, he was the Chief Pilot. In Calcutta, McDonald met his wife, Margaret "Peggy" Spain, who was volunteering with the American Red Cross. The McDonald's left China in 1947, when Mac stepped down as Chief Pilot and took a transfer to Pan American Airways (PAA), working first in the United States and then for three years in Brazil. After his wife contracted polio in South America, McDonald moved his family back to Birmingham and he stopped flying. By that point, McDonald had over 20,000 flying hours. McDonald helped to found the CNAC Association and served as its president. Through McDonald's publishing company, the four volumes of Wings over Asia, which contained first person stories form CNAC personnel and friends, were published. McDonald was inducted in the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame in 1981, and passed away in 1984.