Skip to main content
Edit entry 

Francis Pierre Chinard


Medical doctor Francis Chinard joined the US Army in 1943. One of his jobs in the UK involved demonstrating to crews the effects of lack of a oxygen on the brain, to persuade them of the importance of using their oxygen masks. This involved taking decompression chambers to American bases, including Duxford. ‘We played poker. We, the teachers, were on oxygen in the tanks and the doubting crew, usually about six of them, would gather there and play without oxygen. And we did win a lot of money actually. But that was a lesson well learned.’

Frances Chinard born in 1918 was of French extraction; his father a professor at Princeton. Frances went to Medical school and after graduation was awarded an internship at Colombia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. In August 1942 he was effectively called up but was apparently given a year's grace in which to complete the internship.

Chinard was initially assigned in August 1943 to the 387th Engineers' Battalion which was a black unit with white officers - US forces were still segregated in the 2nd World War -but seems after a short period to have been able to pull some strings and get himself re-assigned to the Air Corps. In this new role he was first sent to the School of Aviation Medicine in Texas for the study of the effects of lack of oxygen (hypoxia) at high altitudes. He then volunteered for an overseas posting, choosing England because he had cousins there, and arriving later that year.

Dates are unclear but following a very brief sojourn at a hospital in Stoke-on-Trent orders came for him to report to the Medical Headquarters of the 8th Air Corps based at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.; his role to educate air crew in ways to cope with the problems encountered when flying above 10,000 ft. This included dealing with the 'bends', frostbite (the bane of air gunners who were often exposed to the elements at high altitudes), changes to ear pressure and the dangers of 'ditching'. Many modifications were ongoing throughout the war to improve such equipment as the electrically-heated suits worn by aircrew. The RAF suits were apparently superior and the USAAF altered their model accordingly, wiring in parallel rather than in series. Chinard says that the need to fly ever higher to avoid German flak etc added to the problems. He also seems to have had another function as commander of the Salvage Retraining Unit with a direct line to the Pentagon. In that role he was sent back to Washington to deliver confidential flying patterns by hand as other methods had proved to be insecure. Chinard took the Flying Scotsman to Scotland and picked up a commercial flight to the USA. Halfway across the Atlantic the pilot announced that the actor Leslie Howard had been shot down (this was probably in November 1943) whilst flying home from Lisbon and the plane would be re-routed accordingly. So they flew the remained of the journey via Casablanca, Dakar and Brazil, Puerto Rico and Miami - a very circuitous route.

Back again in the UK Chinard seems to have been involved in going around 8th Air Force bases demonstrating decompression tanks and instructing aircrew in the correct use of oxygen in flight, and the adverse effects of lack of oxygen. Crews were also instructing in the best chance of survival during ditching - though that was more dependent on the speed of Air Sea Rescue.

After the liberation of France Chinard - as a French speaker - was sent to Paris and thence to Toulouse which had been liberated only two days earlier. His American uniform was viewed with suspicion, there was apparently friction between the American 'liberators' and the Free French - predominantly Communist - forces. His remit is unclear- scientific in nature presumably - but he did have a free pass to travel at will. While based in Paris he went briefly with an inter-Allied investigative group following the troops into Germany.

Back at High Wycombe Chinard was living off-base in a cottage with his by now English wife and where they experienced one of the first V-1 onslaughts. He was assigned an assortment of tasks, one of which was to investigate complaints from the troops that the PX issued condoms were too fragile! Also still working on the effects of oxygen deprivation at high altitudes, carrying out experiments on volunteers and developing 'fixes for different oxygen regulators'. Whilst at High Wycombe in May 1945 Chinard was introduced to Winston Churchill who pronounced his name correctly 'I have been an admirer of Churchill ever since'.

Chinard flew back to the USA later in 1945, his wife following on a Dutch ship. After demobilisation sometime in November of that year he was invited to a party at the Pentagon- to thank the people involved in aviation medicine- where he was amazed to find many of the German medicos they had earlier interrogated. They had been removed from the path of the oncoming Russians - as had Werner von Braun - and re-located as civilians indecently quickly.

Chinard was a great admirer of the English who seemed able to withstand everything thrown at them and survive.


Units served with

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force

    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

Associated Place

  • High Wycombe

    Military site : non-airfield
    High Wycome known as Daws Hill was the Headquarters of Eighth Air Force Bomber Command (Pinetree). Situated on land and in a house formerly occupied by Wycombe Abbey School and restored to them by the US on 9 May 1946. ...

  • American Air Museum

    Other location


Event Location Date
Born Berkeley, CA, USA 30 June 1918


Date Contributor Update
17 August 2018 13:43:14 general ira snapsorter Changes to biography

Biography completed by historian Helen Millgate. Information sourced from correspondence files and articles held in an IWM research collection related to the acquisition of various items and ephemera belonging to Francis Chinard.

Date Contributor Update
17 August 2018 11:59:20 general ira snapsorter Created entry with surname, middlename, firstname, nationality, role, biography, events and place associations

American Air Museum text from displays.

The papers of Francis P. Chinard, M.D. at