Guyana Aviation: One special morning – By Geoff Burrowes

One special morning – By Geoff Burrowes

Dogs barked and a donkey brayed in the distance. A slight breeze waved the window curtains keeping my room nice and cool!

I got up, prayed, had breakfast and practiced on the dart board on my bedroom wall; I hadn’t improved and was happy when I was called to the phone.

My friend David King had been called by the legendary bush pilot Henry Fitt, who was flying to Mackenzie (Linden nowadays) and would have room for David and a friend.

I was so excited as I have always been fascinated by flying and anyway David and Henry were great company!         

David was about my height (average) wore black-framed glasses and had a fertile imagination and a hyperactive sense of humour. Henry on the other hand was older than we were, very tall and, had been bush-flying for many years and was one of the bush pilots who helped open up the rich interior and like many Guianese bush pilots eventually disappeared on a flight over the jungle and was never heard from again. Henry had a dry laconic way of speaking and delivered his punchlines deadpan, so you had to listen!

Henry’s plane was kept at Ogle airstrip, which was just an estate airstrip at the time. I can remember the trip up the Sea Wall Public Road which was the only way up the East Coast at the time. Vlissingen Road ended at Kitty Sea wall, where the sky seemed to go on forever, with the flat Rifle Range on the left and the vast empty expanse of the Atlantic Ocean straight ahead.

The public road drove East through Kitty and then swept into the Ess Bend with Peter  D’Aguiar’s house on the North side  with its line of majestic palms and the Fraser’s attractive green and white wooden home on the South. Then past Subryanville and Bel Air Gardens and on between the tall, white elegant Carib Hotel on the one side and the Bel Air Hotel on the other. There used to be a road cutting South into, I think, Enterprise Village where you could buy unadulterated cow’s milk from the Government Farm – delicious rich and refreshing!

On between the Sea Wall and the flat rice fields to Ogle Front where we turned right and drove down the estate entrance road lined on both sides with tall palm trees.

Ogle Airport at the time had a grass Airstrip and a hangar and an administration building. Now I understand it’s an International Airport with a jet sized strip and all the administration buildings necessary for an international Airport.

After Henry did his walkaround inspection we climbed aboard and strapped in. Henry ran up the engines and we took off North, towards the brown Atlantic, banking South for Mackenzie. One of the most exciting things about flying is the sudden acceleration that presses you back into your seat and then the feeling of weightlessness as the plane lifts off the strip and the things on the ground get smaller and smaller as you start climbing! It’s a thrill that I’ve never lost!

The khaki coloured Demerara River was off to the right and it was fun identifying the estates and villages we flew over, Agricola, Providence, Diamond, Grove, Relief and Supply, Soesdyke, Atkinson Field (now Cheddie B Jagan International Airport)

The sky was blue with little white clouds and the jungle was green and stretched to the far horizon when Henry pointed to a light patch in the trees and said “That’s where we’re going.” The patch eventually resolved into an asphalt runway surrounded by white sand and Henry quickly lined our plane up and brought it in to land.

It was quiet on the strip; the only sound was the sigh of the wind in the tree tops. We were early and as we waited we chatted and I enjoyed Henry’s stories of flying in the bush. I had always been fascinated by the stories that came out of the great interior of Guyana so I lapped them up like a bowl of plantain flour porridge! Names like Kamarang and Imbaimadi, Lethem and Dadanawa, Kaieteur, Cuyuni and Mazaruni brought up visions of mighty rivers, savannahs, mountain ranges, swamps, pork-knockers mining for gold and diamonds, vacqeros herding longhorn cattle and Indian villages of troolie huts huddling in clearings in the bush.

Presently we heard the growl of an engine and a battered Land Rover nosed out of an opening in the bush. The driver, an Amerindian called Tom with a black eye patch greeted Henry like an old friend and quickly accepted me and David. David made friends very easily and quickly.

When we got back into Henry’s Cessna he made my day! He said “Have you ever flown before? Would you like to fly now?” Would I like to fly now? Is the Pope catholic? He explained the controls to me the control stick, the rudders and elevator and once he had taken off safely, he said “It’s yours now” and then coached me until the red and white Cessna was flying straight and level and in the right direction.

I have flown before and since with accomplished pilots like Desmond Ross and Philip Jardim and my own son David they made it look so easy. Just keeping the plane pointed in the right direction and at the right height requires constant adjustments of the wheel and rudder pedals but the thrill of flying is indescribable.

Too soon Henry pointed out Ogle Airstrip ahead and had me descend to the right altitude for the approach before he took over and made a smooth approach and landing. I couldn’t adequately express my thanks for Henry’s generosity but I think he must have seen it in my shining eyes because he looked quite pleased.

Over the years David was a good and faithful friend always lighting up every room he was in and between he and Henry gave me one of the most memorable days of my life so I would like to dedicate this story to these two memorable characters – David King and Henry Fitt; may they both rest in peace!

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