Tag Archives: sheep & goats

American hubris in Vietnam – 1966

Air War in VietnamThe November 1966 Flying magazine has quite an article on the air war in Vietnam, circa 1966. It’s interesting not only in that it provides quite an aerial description of the doomed war, but also as a brief history of the helicopter as it was applied to that particular conflict. There’s plenty of politics in the article, not in itself unusual as witnessed even by today’s standard of evolving bullshit and half-to-no truths. Even France gets short shrift for committing 600,000 troops to the conflict ten years earlier. If only the Americans had been paying attention to France’s losses, they would have known beforehand how unwinnable such a war would be. Of course, history can never speak to a nation that recently defined “French fries” as a pussy foreign food and instead made a laughable attempt at calling them “freedom” fries. How gauche.

Unfortunately for all of us, America’s intransigence in the face of overwhelming and insurmountable odds continues to this day with jackboots tramping through Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and others for absolutely no reason whatsoever but that they can.

How gauche.

In any case, politics and my personal opinion notwithstanding, here’s The Air War in Vietnam – Flying, November 1966. It begins on page 38 and is quite an interesting read. If you’re not familiar with google’s particular brand of online magazine reader, select Front Cover to view the contents.


August 1975 – fire and sweat

By mid-July the LGL survey ended up in Rae Straight, and from there, terminated. I ended up ferrying south and picking up some itinerant work with the OMNR and again with Ontario Hydro in Manitouwadge. Hydro was using some brush-cutting equipment to clean up a line into the town, and I was transporting the crews out each day to do the work.

It wasn’t long before the hot, dry weather that summer transpired to contribute plenty of smoke and fire in the area surrounding Manitouwadge. Since I was right there, Hydro eventually relented and shut down their job. I was released to do the fire flying on Terrace Bay 21. It wasn’t long before Terrace 22 ignited and the show started all over again.

Those fires ended up being quite a social event in the hotel. Some debauchery went on in the hotel’s broom closets with some of the locals and imports when we ended up partaking of the facilities. How the crews beat us to the best seats in the house every night continued to be a complete mystery for quite a while.

I can recall spending the occasional night in a local basement, on the lookout for hiding from an axe-wielding individual suspicious of something or other. I do recall that the mostly innocent second party to the crime was a blonde with a huge rack. She wasn’t shy about showing it off by draping it in a white sweater, and I made it my personal business to carve out a landing spot where the sweat likes to pool.

I still shake my head at that little indiscretion and consider myself lucky – both for the rackage and the escape from sure and certain perdition had I sneezed.

Mad Mullahs and American oil companies

Updated February 2011: As of February 8th I have located this fort on Google Earth at 8°08’47.91″ N  50°02’26.36″ E. Image data dated 11/3/2004, or 12/14/2004. It’s not visible from the most current satellite imaging due to cloud cover obscuring the ground.

The location is nowhere near Eyl, which is far to the south, but is at Gabbac, Nugaal.

The fort from Google Earth, 2004 imagery

The fort from Google Earth, 2004 imagery. It's located at Gabbac, Nugaal in northern Somalia. Over the intervening decades it has obviously deteriorated.

One of our return flights from an Indian Ocean R&R brought us past this fortress, possibly constructed during the Dervish war in the early 1900s. I’m not sure if it’s Somali, Italian or British. The British did build a number of forts to guard access to the interior of their territory. In that case, the location of this fort is ideal, constructed as it was on the high ground overlooking the river in many directions.

A British fortress in the Mad Mullah war

The location of this fortress is now known. See above for information.

The Dervish State was an early 20th century Somali Muslim state that was established by Muhammad Abdullah Hassan – known to the British as the Mad Mullah. Hassan was a religious leader who gathered Somali soldiers from across the Horn of Africa and united them into an army known as the Dervishes. This Dervish army enabled Hassan to carve out a powerful state through conquest of lands claimed by the Somali Sultans, the Ethiopians and the European powers.

The Dervish State acquired renown in the Islamic and Western worlds due to its resistance against the European empires of Britain and Italy. The Dervish forces successfully repulsed the British Empire in four military expeditions, and forced it to retreat to the coastal region. As a result of its fame in the Middle East and Europe, the Dervish State was recognized as an ally by the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire. It also succeeded at outliving the race for Africa, and remained throughout World War I the only independent Muslim power on the continent. After a quarter of a century of holding the British at bay, the Dervishes were finally defeated in 1920, when Britain for the first time in Africa used aircraft to bomb the Dervish capital city.

Europe replaced by America

In more modern times, it would appear that British and European dominance of the region has been replaced by U.S. oil company dominance. Ongoing oil company exploration in the region has perpetrated the fantasy believed by successive Somali governments that oil is just one next step away from being discovered. Why this charade continues to be foisted on this broken, poverty-stricken third world country is beyond explanation. America’s decided lack of a cohesive foreign policy, and one consistently based on the availability of oil, is no doubt one of the reasons for this sad debacle in Somalia.

This series of documents details continued Conoco oil exploration in the various regions of Somalia and an ongoing history of oil fraud. In my opinion, the fraud is intended to keep current and future Somali governments under the thumb of the United States. These early ’90s documents were obtained through a U.S. Freedom of Information Act request, and were released in 2006.

As detailed in the link’s PDF files, Conoco’s continued involvement with the U.S. government in claiming that oil may – or may not – be discovered, and that if it is – or is not – it still has some bearing on funding future exploration. Even if the wells come up dry – and they have for decades since we were there in the mid-70s – the financial well has not come up dry for successive friendly members of succeeding Somali governments.

There’s nothing quite like American foreign policy based on oil. You can’t beat it for the entertainment factor to this very day. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of yet another country in an ever more impoverished and civil-war-ravaged region of the world.

Canadian company joins in the fraud

Even Canada feels the need to insert itself into the equation. A Canadian oil company attempted to inflate its share prices on the London stock market by pretending to look for oil on the “promising geological and other data that Conoco had left behind.” Canadian penny stocks and their fly-by-night promoters and companies are everywhere.

Lazy gets its reward

The Brits I ended up flying around on the Conoco contract were conducting the gravity survey portion of the job. If I remember right, they were Petty-Ray Geophysical employees, a crew of young guys who weren’t all that keen on actually doing any work.

Perhaps they had heard what the Pakistanis were being paid.

Our afternoon shift began at 1400, after the mid-day break. We’d fly back to pick up the line where we left off earlier in the day, before lunch. At around the 1500 or 1530 mark, the gravity crew would start making noise about wanting to get back to camp. Always one to try to keep the customer happy, I obliged and returned the crew to camp, usually by 1600, and sometimes earlier.

After a few days of this, the party chief called me into the mess tent and asked me why I was bringing the guys back so early. They were supposed to be working until 1700, which – given the insistence by the crew that they should be back an hour before then – came as a complete surprise. During our discussion it became obvious to me that he had talked to his crew of lazy Brits, and they had sold me down the river by telling him that I was the one who was insisting on their early return to camp.

Once I got that straightened out to his satisfaction, the party chief was going to tear the boys a new asshole. Rather than let him do that, I suggested that I could handle the situation and keep peace in the camp. The party chief liked my idea, and for the following few days I did what I was being paid to do, plus a little extra.

Daylight didn’t last much past 1800. And sunset – like sunrise – came at exactly the same time every day. If we weren’t on the ground by 1820, it was dark – right now. I wouldn’t have a lot of leeway to get the lazy British bums back to camp for the night after stretching out their workday to make up for lost time. Nevertheless, when the crew started making noise about heading back to camp for the day, I ignored them and continued flying them on to their next survey points, as far past quitting time as I could manage.

For three or four days I kept them out late, and managed to arrive back in camp about a half hour before the sun set. I did that for several days, and they eventually got the hint, stopped sniveling, and did their jobs. I can imagine that after hours, the bitch factor in camp was pretty high among the gravity guys, at least for a few days.

We must have made up for the lost time, because the party chief never brought up the subject again.

The early days of Helair Ltd.

The Helair faciltiy, Kenora Ontario - April 1973

The Helair Ltd. hanger, Kenora - April 1973

In 1965, Helair Ltd. was located out of Pete Peterson’s home on Keewatin Beach Road, just west of Kenora. When the then Department of Transport came by to inspect his operation, they never blinked an eye, and in fact gave their approval. How times change.

Department of Lands & ForestsIn 1967 I had a job as a radio operator with the old Department of Lands & Forests. That same year, Helair had been awarded the L&F contract out of Sioux Lookout to provide services for the surrounding districts. Ron Kincaid, my boss, requested the aircraft for a trip down to Gold Rock, and he offered to take me along on the flight. If I recall, the flight was in CF-HEL, the company’s flagship Bell 47G-4a.

I was hooked from the beginning. I’m not sure if I should thank Ron or not for taking me along on that flight. Then, during the winter of 1967, Pete gave me my first flight from the lakeside base in a dual-equipped G2, CF-MEU.

From that fledgling start on the shore of Lake of the Woods, Helair Ltd.’s business eventually mushroomed to the extent that expanded facilities became a necessity.

HelairI don’t recall the year that Pete built the hanger on Villeneuve Road just off of Highway 658, but it was a pretty nice facility, nestled as it was in the trees ten minutes north of Kenora. In addition to the hanger there was a home on-site as well, complete with a swimming pool. Later, the site would be used as a residence for the students who took their flight training at the base.

Some time just after the new place was built I recall being sent to Kenora. I stayed at the Norman Hotel in Keewatin, a stately old place where I experienced the hospitality of the Norman Lord. Bruce was a real character who loved his cigars. He reminded me a great deal of Buster, the night manager at the King Edward Hotel in Niagara Falls where I stayed during my flight training.

If you’d like more about Helair Ltd. and how it all got started, Pete Peterson’s book A Flying Story is available for download. Not only does he document Helair’s beginnings, but he also spends much of the book examining the early years of helicopter development and use in eastern Canada, starting in the mid-50s.