Hong Kong saw an influx of refugees around the time of the 1911 Revolution. To solve the serious housing problem so caused, Wu Tingfang initiated the proposal to reclaim Kowloon Bay for the construction of a residential district. In 1914 the cause was taken up by a group of Chinese merchants, including Ho Kai, Au Tak, Ts’o Seen-wan, Chau Siu-ki, Chow Shou-son, Wu Ch'ao-shu and Cheung Sum-wu, who founded the Kai Tak Investment Company and applied to the government for a reclamation permit concerning Kowloon Bay in furtherance of an upper-class residential area. The name of the company, “Kai Tak”, came after Ho Kai and Au Tak, the leading figures of the group. It followed that the reclaimed land was called “Kai Tak Bund”, the same as the company’s name.
Kai Tak Bund scheme commenced in 1916. It proceeded smoothly at first, but the wave of mass strikes in the 1920s and the Canton-Hong Kong Strike in 1925 ignited an economic recession so damaging that the scheme came to an abrupt halt.
Among the project’s three phases only the first was completed, by which the western part of the reclaimed land became a residential district. Other parts were either abandoned or left untreated. The first phase of the project produced an area of unused reclaimed land of around 40,000 m2 , which was leased in 1925 first to the Abbott School of Aviation and then to HMS Hermes, a RAF aircraft carrier, for the staging of military aircrafts that made way to Hong Kong. The leasing laid the foundation upon which Kai Tak Bund was later developed into an airport. In 1927, the Hong Kong government purchased the Kai Tak reclaimed land, using the financial crisis of the Kai Tak Investment Company to good advantage. The remaining reclamation was accomplished and an airport, known as the Aerodrome at Kai Tak, was built.
Many regional-history and anecdote books tell that “Kai Tak Airport” was so named to commemorate Ho Kai and Au Tak, the alleged founders of the airport. The fact is, Ho Kai died in 1914 and Au Tak in 1920, and they had nothing to do with the construction of the airport. The reclaimed land of Kowloon Bay had been called “Kai Tak reclaimed land” or “Kai Tak Bund” as early as the 1920s; “Kai Tak Airport” was as a matter of fact named after the place, instead of the men who made no direct contribution to the aviation development of Hong Kong.
Although aircrafts worldwide had adopted the automatic landing system (Autoland) for decades, this technology found limited application on the peculiar Kai Tak Runway 13. It was no easy job to land on the mountainous and building-cramped Kowloon: the plane, guided by the Instrument Guidance System (IGS), had to head east from Western Kowloon to the “Checkerboard Hill” in Kowloon City, then made a manual 47° visual right turn to land on Runway 13. The highly demanding manoeuvre of making swift turns in the thick of mountains and high-rises on such a low altitude was met with only at the Kai Tak Airport. The pilot had to monitor wind speed and direction, which could change every second, as well as the height and speed of the plane. Any error would cause the plane to deviate from its path, leading to danger and even catastrophe.
To take off on Runway 31, heading from Kwun Tong to Kowloon City, was another spectacle. Running full power from Lei Yue Mun to Kowloon City, the pilot had to avoid mounds of high-rises and, most importantly, the 500m Beacon Hill and Lion Rock Hill. Soon after taking off the pilot had to make a hurried turn westward to steer clear of the hills. Affected by the buildings of Kowloon City, Runway 31 was actually shorter in terms of takeoff-run distance than Runway 13, hence more challenging for pilot to lift the plane.
Many international institutions considered Runway 13/31 one of the most dangerous runways in the world. The main drawbacks were the insufficient length of Runway 31, the proximity of the runway and taxiway, the mountains and buildings that bordered them, the frequent wind shear, the innumerable lights at night, and the too-hectic activities on the runway. For its uniqueness, however, Runway 13/31 was also a training site for airlines worldwide, recognized as the best test of pilot competence. Since the Autoland system was of limited use in Kai Tak, every landing and takeoff attempt was an expression of dexterity for pilots all over the world, who used to feel proud being assigned to fly to Hong Kong. Before it was closed, Runway 13/31 had been the most hectic single runway of the world, accommodating 36 landings and takeoffs per hour.
Despite its retirement, Kai Tak remained around us: for the last ten-some years companies around the world kept paying efforts to develop flight simulation games that feature Kai Tak landing and takeoff. The airport becomes not only a collective memory of the grown-ups but also, like the Bruce Lee craze, a fashionable amusement for the “post-80s” and “post- 90s” of the world.
On 31 May, the American pilot Harry Abbott took a trial flight on the open area in Kai Tak Bund for the first time
On 25 January, the Abbott School of Aviation was opened at Kai Tak Bund. It was closed in August the same year.
HMS Hermes, the Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft carrier, visited Hong Kong in 1925. During its stay, the open area on Kai Tak Bund was used for staging military aircrafts.
On 9 March, RAF Kai Tak, a Royal Air Force base, was established.
On 7 November, the Far East Flying Training School was established in Kai Tak Airport.
This year the RAF base was moved to the east of Kai Tak. The RAF hangar and the administration building were built.
The Kai Tak civil hangar and office were built at the end of 1934.
On 24 March, Imperial Airways launched the first regular passenger flight from Hong Kong to Penang. With this milestone Hong Kong entered the age of civil aviation.
On 6 November, China National Aviation Corporation launched the first regular flight. Civil aviation between Hong Kong and China commenced.
On 28 April, Pan American World Airways launched the first regular flight. Transatlantic air transport between Hong Kong and America commenced.
On 29 June, Eurasia Aviation Corporation started operating flights between Hong Kong and China.
On 2 September, a typhoon struck Hong Kong. Facilities in Kai Tak airport were severely damaged. The Airport was closed for several days to facilitate clean-up and maintenance.
On 10 August, Air France launched its first flight to Hong Kong.
On 21 September, a DC-2 of China National Aviation Corporation ran into Saigon Street just outside the airport upon landing. A civilian house was crashed, and the aircraft was severely damaged. No one was killed in this incident.
On 5 December, RAF Kai Tak entered level-1 combat readiness.
On 8 December, at dawn, the Japanese Army bombarded Kai Tak. Four days later they seized the airport.
The Japanese Army started expanding Kai Tak in the middle of 1942. The extension project was generally completed in the next year.
On 9 January, a ceremony was held to mark the removal of Sung Wong Hoi, which the Japanese commanded to make way for the extension of Kai Tak Airport.
On 23 January, nine American B-25 bombers, convoyed by twenty-eight P-
40 fighter planes, attacked Kai Tak Airport.
On 11 February, the Allies delivered six B-25 and two P-40 to raid Kai Tak.11 The air combat between America and Japan brought down at least seven Japanese aircrafts and one American aircraft.
On 15 August, the Japanese Army signed unconditional surrender. On 1 September, the Third Commando Brigade of Royal Marines (RM) overtook Kai Tak Airport. Four days later RAF returned to Kai Tak, and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) made its comeback in the same month.
In September, China National Aviation Corporation reopened flights between Hong Kong and Chongqing via Guilin. Hong Kong’s aviation industry got back on its feet.
On 1 May, the Civil Aviation Department was established. One of its responsibilities was to administer the operation of Kai Tak Airport
On 18 July, a typhoon smashed various facilities of Kai Tak and wreaked its planes, causing substantial damage.
On 24 September, Cathay Pacific Airways, based at Kai Tak, was founded.
On 25 September, a RAF C-47 transport aircraft heading to Saigon, Vietnam, took off on Runway 31 towards the direction of Lion Rock Hill. Due to harsh weather, it fell on Kowloon Tong after departure. Nineteen were killed.
On 25 January, a DC-3 of Philippine Airlines crashed into Beacon Hill amid harsh weather. Four people were killed. It was reported that 50 boxes of gold to the value of $15,000,000 were loaded on the plane. The Police Force blocked the area to search out, but a pile of gold bars amounting to over a million dollars was amiss. Crowds of people went to the site looking for “treasure” after it was reopened. The “Gold Rush” lasted for several months.
On 4 March, another Hong Kong airline based at Kai Tak was established.
On 3 October, the Jardine Air Maintenance Company (JAMCo) was established.
On 4 November, Swire Group set up the Pacific Air Maintenance Services (PAMAS) at Kai Tak.
On 21 December, a DC-4 of China National Aviation Corporation en route from Shanghai to Kai Tak smashed up in the fog near Basalt Island, Sai Kung. Thirty-three were killed, including Rong Yiren, scion of a prominent Shanghai textile family, and Quentin Roosevelt, grandson of the former American President Theodore Roosevelt and the vice president of CNAC. Monuments, which exist until today, were erected at Basalt Island in memory of the two men.
This year, China National Aviation Corporation and Central Air Transport Corporation, which belonged to China, moved their headquarters to Kai Tak.
On 24 February, a DC-3 of Cathay Pacific Airways, which departed from Manila to Kai Tak, crashed into Braemar Hill, North Point. Twenty-three were killed.
On 9 November, China National Aviation Corporation and Central Air Transport Corporation ceased operation without notice. It was later called the “Liang Hang Incident” (Incident of the two airways). Flights between China and Hong Kong were broke off.
At the end of the year, the Hong Kong government decided to put up a new airport at Ping Shan. The plan was overruled in the next year.
In October, Runway 13/31 was extended to intersect with Clear Water Bay13 Road.
On 1 November, the Pacific Air Maintenance Services (PAMAS) and the Jardine Air Maintenance Company (JAMCo) merged to form the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company Limited (HAECo).
On 11 March, a DC-4 of Pacific Overseas Airlines crashed into Beacon Hill soon after taking off from Kai Tak. Twenty-six were killed.
On 9 April, a DC-3 of Siamese Airways plunged into the sea at Cape D’Aguilar due to human error. Sixteen were killed.
On 14 June, the Hong Kong government concluded the “Broadbent Report” concerning Kai Tak’s extension.
On 27 July, a RAF Hastings transport aircraft departed from Singapore to Hong Kong undershot when approaching to land on Runway 13. It struck a civilian house in Po Kong Village and crashed beside the runway, killing one villager on the spot. The aircraft burnt out, but all forty passengers and crews on the plane survived.
On 11 April, Kashmir Princess, a Lockheed Constellation aircraft of Air India en route from Beijing to Bandung, Indonesia, via Hong Kong, plunged into the Indonesian waters. Sixteen was killed and six injured. Kashmir Princess was a chartered plane carrying Chinese communist delegates and journalists to the Bandung Conference. The Hong Kong Police Force concluded from investigation that a time bomb was planted on the aircraft during its stay in Kai Tak. The convict was Chow Tse-ming, a serviceman, who fled to Taiwan after the incident. It was believed to be an assassination plot targeted on Zhou Enlai, whose plan to fly in the plane was dropped.
On 11 October, manpower was directed from RAF Kai Tak to Ngau Tau Kok to quell disturbance during the “Kowloon riots”. Five flights that planned to land on Kai Tak were cancelled.
On 22 September, typhoon Gloria struck Hong Kong, damaging nine aircrafts in Kai Tak.
On 31 August, a C-54 of the United States Air Force reached Kai Tak from Okinawa. It crashed at the intersection of Runway 07/25 and Runway 31 upon landing on the latter. No one was injured, but as the wreckage disrupted landing and takeoff, the new Runway 13/31, which was due to open the next day, was put to use earlier than planned.
On 12 September, the new Runway 13/31 was officially opened. The same day “Comet 5” of the British Overseas Airways Corporation landed on Kai Tak. It was the first jetliner ever arrived in Hong Kong.
On 17 July, a runway lighting system was installed, allowing nighttime landing and takeoff in Kai Tak.
Pan American World Airways operated the first Boeing 707 flight to Hong Kong.
On 19 April, a C-47 of the United States Air Force en route to Tainan crashed into Beacon Hill after taking off towards the direction of Lei Yue Mun, causing fifteen deaths. All, except one, on board were killed.
On 1 September, typhoon Wanda struck Hong Kong. The hangar of the Far East Flying Training School was severely damaged. Three trainers and innumerable equipment were destroyed.
On 12 November, the new passenger terminal building was opened upon the completion of the first phase of the construction project.
On 24 August, a C-130 transport aircraft of the United States Air Force en route to Vietnam plunged into the sea at Yau Tong. Among the sixty soldiers on board, fifty-nine were killed.
On 30 June, a Caravelle jetliner of Thai Airways slipped off the runway and plunged into the sea while landing in typhoon. Fourteen was killed, fiftysix injured.
On 5 November, a Convair CV-880 jet of Cathay Pacific Airways plunged into the sea after a failed launch. One was killed, forty injured.
The extension of Runway 13/31 was completed early in the year. Boarding bridges and automated baggage handling system came into operation.
On 11 April, the first Boeing 747, operated by Pan American World Airways, arrived in Hong Kong. Kai Tak became the fourth airport outside of the United States qualified for Boeing 747. Aviation in Hong Kong entered the wide-body age.
On 1 June, the extension of Runway 13/31 was opened to traffic. A new Instrument Guidance System and an improved Visual Approach System came into service.。
In May, the Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminal was opened.
n 5 November, Air France operated the first Concorde supersonic jet flight to Hong Kong.
On 2 September, a CL-44 freighter of British Transmeridian Air Cargo en route to Bangkok suffered engine fire soon after takeoff. It plunged into the sea of Waglan Island. All four crews on board were killed.
On 31 March, RAF withdrew from Kai Tak. Sek Kong airfield was made the only RAF base in Hong Kong
In December, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) started operating regular flights between Hong Kong and Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Beijing.
In March, the Hong Kong government formally undertook feasibility study on the building of a new airport at Chek Lap Kok.
The Hong Kong government declared early in the year that the construction of Chek Lap Kok Airport would be held in abeyance owing to financial difficulty and the uncertain future of Hong Kong.
In May, Hong Kong Dragon Airlines, based at Kai Tak, was established.
In November, Air Hong Kong, a freighter airline based at Kai Tak, was established
In April, the Hong Kong government revived the feasibility study of Chep Lap Kok Airport.
On 31 August, a DH-121 Trident of Civil Aviation Administration of China crashed into the sea when landing Kai Tak in wind shear. Seven were17 killed, fourteen injured.
On 11 October, the “Port and Airport Development Strategy” was published. The Hong Kong government settled on constructing a new airport at Chep Lap Kok. In April the next year the Provisional Airport Authority was established to supervise the cause.
On 15 November, Terminal 2 of the Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminal came into operation. It doubled the air cargo handling capacity of Kai Tak to 1.4 million tonnes per annum, which topped the world.。
In November, the East Apron extension was completed.
On 4 November, a Boeing 747-400 of China Airlines departed from Taiwan slid off the Kai Tak runway when landing in harsh weather. It plunged into the sea, causing twenty-three injuries
This year, the South Apron extension was completed.
On 23 September, Lockheed L-100-30 Hercules of Indonesian Pelita Air Service landed at Kai Tak. It was a transport aircraft rented by the Hong Kong government for repatriating Vietnamese migrants. Mission accomplished, it return to Hong Kong and was prepared to depart for Jakarta. It plunged into the sea at Kowloon Bay soon after takeoff. Six were killed, another six injured.
Kai Tak Airport worked its last day of operation on 5 July, and was officially closed on the next day around 1:00 am. On 6 July the new Hong Kong International Airport was opened to the public. Chaos, however, broke out for several months, and Kai Tak’s Cargo Terminal 2 was18 temporarily reactivated to ward off the blow.