Aviation Historian 14
J.Pote - New Year on Skyline Ridge
Spending his “gap year" with a medical team in Laos as part of the Colombo Plan, the author was afforded the opportunity to take numerous photographs of the exotica to be found in South-east Asia in the early days of the Vietnam conflict. One example was de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver “82053” of the Royal Lao Air Force, snapped at Thakhek Wesf in November 1965.
An abandoned North American T-28 of the Royal Lao Air Force at Phou Khao Khwai in December 1965. The locals quickly reduced the aircraft to a hulk, taking anything usable to make tools and other useful items.
The six Sikorsky UH-34Ds of the Commission Internationale de Controle (two of which are seen here), flown predominantly by French pilots, were tasked with supervising the neutrality of Laos, and were all maintained by Air America at the latter’s repair depot at Udorn in Thailand. Note the Helio Courier already well airborne by the end of the runway at LS 20.
Another of Air America’s stalwarts in Laos was the Fairchild C-123 Provider, which proved invaluable owing to its capacious fuselage and outstanding short take-off and landing capabilities. This example, “655" (originally 54-0655 in USAF service) was photographed by the author at Thakhek West in November 1965.
Dornier Do 28B-1 N9180X (c/n 3060) parked beside DHC-4 Caribou “392” at Sam Thong. Operated by Bird & Sons, in whose distinctive red-and-cream colour scheme it is seen here, N9180X later went missing en route from L 54 (Luang Prabang) to L 25 (Ban Houei Sai) on April 6, 1967, with six aboard.
Arrival on Skyline Ridge - Air America Caribou “393” rolls to a stop up the runway at LS 20. Landing the bigger aircraft at the primitive strip required a high level of skill from the Air America pilots, the wheels having to touch down on the very edge of the ridge’s lip.
Not for the faint-hearted - an Air America Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter whistles down the 800yd (730m) heavily-sloped runway at LS 20 during the author’s visit. The other visiting aircraft are parked in the limited space at the foot of the runway.
Illustrating the primitive nature of the airstrip at Sam Thong, this photograph shows Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer XW-PBP (c/n 567) at Lima Site 20 on January 9, 1966. Although the aircraft is painted in Philippine Air Lines colours, and was indeed registered to the airline as PI-C434, it never served with the company. It was acquired by CIA cover airline Bird & Sons in December 1963 before being transferred to another CIA surrogate, Continental Air Services Inc, in September 1965. It was damaged beyond repair in a thunderstorm at Vientiane in March 1968