GDF: Guyana Defence Force Air Wing in the 1960’s – Random Notes+ Photos

Emblem of Air Wing


Author Unknown

The origins of GDF Air Wing/Air Command/Air Corps. This unit was formed in November 1967 when the GDF was given two single engine Heliocourier U12 STOL aircraft.  This type of aircraft, painted black, was in use in Vietnam for “Black Ops” by US CIA/Special Operations. The GDF aircraft were painted dark green and the nose / cowlings were painted in a bright luminous red. They were familiarly called “Rudolph” after Santa’s red nosed reindeer.

The registration numbers were 8RGCU (Oct 12 1967) and 8RGCV (Oct 30 1967) Maj Neil Pullen, Royal Anglian Reg/ Army Air Corps, a UK Training Team Officer, who was the OC of the Training Wing was given the aircraft to fly.   

The aircraft had an exceptional short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. Maj Pullen boasted that if he left his coffee and sandwiches behind he could take off and land on a cricket pitch.

A similar one painted, in white, was given to the Police-8RGCJ (18 May 1967) It was supposed to be piloted by Mr Hutton Griffith who was given the honorary rank of Police Superintendent. This aircraft was infrequently used as Mr Griffith was employed full time in his Civil Service job. It was eventually handed over to the GDF. The maintenance of the aircraft was done by GAC.

Mr Jack Landreth-Smith, a Trinidadian married to the daughter of a prominent Guyanese politician, was recruited. He had a Commercial Pilots License (never used it before) He was given the rank of Captain and appointed OC Air Wing when Major Pullen left. Jack was an overly cautious pilot and is remembered for his nervous movements in the cockpit and his shout of “clear prop” before takeoff.

In the New River operation, GAC Capt Jardim had to take up the Heliocourier on the pre-dawn weather recce before he piloted the second Twin Otter in the assault. The GDF had started to recruit young pilots and these were “the young and the reckless” – good pilots though. In March 1968 the first was Irishman Derek (Irish) Murphy, the son of Bookers/Guysuco‘s Chief Pilot. He was given the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was joined by young Francis [Frankie] Angel Vieira, the first Guyanese, in July 1968; he was given the rank of OCDT (he later became the long reigning 500 cc and unlimited capacity motor cycle champion on the South Dakota circuit).

Unlike Capt Landreth–Smith, these young men had Private Pilots Licenses but were much more adventurous and daring. The Heliocouriers served us well. They provided a platform, flown by 2nd Lt Murphy, for Col Pope and Major Pilgrim. After Pope led the advance to Annai and he used it to fly around the ranches in the North Savannahs. They were later used for reconnaissance, liaison and troop logistics in the Rupununi, stationed at Lethem for days at a time. 2nd Lt Vieira also flew demolition parties to destroy illegal airstrips in the North Savannah. In the New River Operation, they were used after the initial assault in the same role.

The onus fell on the young pilots. Capt Landreth–Smith resigned shortly after. Throughout the early interior deployment of the GDF the Heliocouriers became the life line of the troops on deployment. Familiarly called “Rudolph” they were always a sight for sore eyes. We never felt any qualms about flying long distances over hostile terrain with only a single Lycoming engine to depend on.

Unfortunately, on 9 July 1969, while returning from the North West District, the Heliocourier 8RGCV, piloted by Derek Murphy, developed engine troubles and disappeared. We spent a few days looking for him. It was all hands-on deck, every available light aircraft, public and private and all available officers were out looking for him. I recall flying on one such search mission in the Guysuco Push/Pull Cessna piloted by Derek’s father Brian Murphy. Derek eventually turned up at Charity Police Station clad only in his undershorts and one sock. He had ditched the aircraft in the Atlantic off the Essequibo Coast, swam ashore and made it overland to the Police Station (his clothing washed ashore the following day). Derek Murphy succeeded Captain Landreth–Smith as OC Air Wing until Major Michael Chan-a-Sue was seconded from GAC. Vieira was sent to Embry Riddle to acquire his Commercial Pilots License (CPL).

During the incident in 1970, when Lt Maxi Hinds and his platoon was forced to withdraw from Etheringbang after being shelled and machine gunned by the Venezuelans. 2nd Lt Vieira was the only Heliocourier pilot available as Lt Murphy was away on leave. Vieira flew long hours shuttling troops into Sakaika airstrip. He flew into Etheringbang airstrip to check its condition since it had been mortared. He took in 2nd Lt Milton Britton and a machine gunner. He then commenced shuttling a platoon into the airstrip.

Capt Murphy resigned at the end of 1971 as Chief Pilot and left Guyana. He was succeeded by Capt Vieira in that position. Murphy returned to Guyana in 1979 and was placed on the reserve. Murphy did the Skyvan conversion with Robby Roberts who was DCA and flew the first Skyvan 8RGFF which was registered to Civil Aviation Dept on 18 Aug 1979. This aircraft crashed in the Kamoa Mountains en route from Aishalton to Konashen, Roberts and his co–pilot lost their lives. A second Skyvan, 8RGFK, was registered to the GDF on April 2 1981. This one was damaged on Kaikan Airstrip and later scrapped.  It was replaced by 8RGRR, registered to the GDF on August 27 1981. It was dedicated to Robbie Roberts (GRR) and was painted in camouflage colours. Major Chan-a-Sue and Reserve Captain Vieira were trained at the factory in Belfast, Ireland. They ferried this aircraft to Guyana.

 Capt Vieira resigned in 1972, joined Bookers/Guysuco and was placed on the reserve. He was called out on many occasions especially for mercy missions at night. It was while on the reserve that he attended the Skyvan conversion course. During the elections of 1973 there were disturbances on the Essequibo Coast (more details of this in a later posting when I was CO IOC) Deputy Commissioner Lloyd Barker and I were flown into Anna Regina airstrip by Islander piloted by Reserve Captain Vieira. On the way to the airstrip we flew low over a riotous crowd outside the Police Station at Anna Regina. We contemplated dropping a few Tear Gas Grenades on the crowd but decided against it (we were carrying a resupply of Tear Gas for the Police). After landing we were met by a police Land Rover without an escort and no sentry for the aircraft and pilot at that remote airstrip. Frankie was asked if he was okay having seen the hostile crowd. He told us not to worry. When we returned, we found Frankie sitting on the wings of the aircraft with his hunting 12-gauge shotgun and a box of cartridges observing a 360 degree arc of fire.

The early pilots were true pioneers, the aircraft were not equipped with modern electronics such as GPSs and Guyana did not have sophisticated radar, beacons etc. Writing in the first issue of the GDF Journal (magazine) Scarlet Beret in 1970. Captain Murphy wrote “…..Bush flying is so called because of the terrain over which one must fly. It is because of the lack of geographical features, and the marked similarity between bush (jungle) and the rivers in various parts of the country that flying is so difficult in Guyana.  Added to this there are no navigation aids in the bush, the maps are inaccurate and communications are poor. Most of the flying therefore is done by dead-reckoning…..”. Captain Murphy also mentions the conditions of the air strips. To be continued with the influx of the graduates from Embry Riddle……

Attached are the following photographs

  1. The Emblem of the Air Wing/Air Command/Air Corps.
  2. The Heliocourier.
  3. Derek Murphy and Frankie Vieira
  4. Derek Murphy with the Wai Wais in Konoshen
  5. Derek Murphy with the Police Heliocourier. Pilots were always a source of reading materials for troops in the interior.
  6. Soldiers in front of the Police Heliocourier at Lethem.
  7. Derek Murphy on top of the Heliocourier refueling the aircraft. The Heliocourier used to taxi into the GDF compound at Lethem, overnighting at times.

Emblem of Air Wing

Air Wing -Heliocourier

Dereck Murphy and Frankie Vieira

Derek Murphy with Wai-Wais

Derek Murphy with Police Heliocourier

Soldiers with a Heliocourier at Lethem

Derek Murphy refueling the Heliocourier

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  • Clyde Duncan  On November 7, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    I asked Major General Joe Singh [ret’d] for his comment and the General wrote:

    The author is Colonel Carl Morgan [ret’d] who gave a clue as to his identity when he wrote that he was CO Internal Operations Command (CO IOC). Coming from Carl, it needs no authentication nor elaboration from me. I concur.

  • Clyde Duncan  On November 8, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    My Red Education – Venezuela

    David Parra | Caracas Chronicles

    The first time I heard “in an hour our Sukhoi’s can drop bombs in Bogotá” was over a decade ago, definitely not now that the ANC is challenging President Iván Duque with the phrase; it was pre-military instruction and Bolivarian Class, in the city of Merida, where they would tell us that “if Colombia declares war on us, we’re attacking first.”

    I was in tenth grade and going to a public high school, the kind of places you go when your family can’t afford private education.

    Bolivarian Class was, at the time, an ideological wall brought in from Russia and Cuba by Chávez after the events of 2002, a powerful and well-structured plan for indoctrination that ploughed forward like a harvester through the most important schools in the nation.

    For starters, it was a filter to study the kids and catalog them according to their attitudes. From seventh to ninth grade, students would go through utilitarian subjects, “workshops”, where we’d learn common trades like basic construction, electricity and cooking, besides the traditional schoolwork.

    This other subject, though, pre-military instruction, was used by Chavistas to separate potential soldiers from those who’d probably be good only as workers.
    These classes dealing with historic, political and ideological induction; as well as physical training, mattered more than passing math, Spanish or biology.

    ‘You Will Ride the Storm’

    The main classroom was a basement with a low-rise ceiling, well-lit, with two rows of wooden desks and a small stage that would set the teacher’s heavy desk on a higher level. Behind this, a huge mural painting of Simón Bolívar would stare at all of us. To go in, you had to walk across a hall full of flags and in front of a small recess built up with boxes and glass domes where replicas of Independence War generals Vicente Campo Elías’s and José Felix Ribas’s swords lay. Unlike the rest of the classrooms – falling to pieces with not enough desks – this was a patriotic sanctuary.

    Our teacher was young, charismatic and deeply Chavista, and for two afternoons a week he’d tell us about the hidden magic behind Soviet dialectics, he’d explain why Cuba was still in poverty and why Venezuela was the biggest economic power in Latin America.

    He would talk about the Chinese Revolution; the South American insurgencies and how Venezuelan guerrilla fighters betrayed their ideology when they left the mountains. It was the first time I heard words like Operación Cóndor, counter-intelligence, civil-military union.

    The guy spoke about destiny a lot, about our generation’s duty to keep the pillars of Bolivarian thought in place, and defend it from the Empire’s oppression, looking to shackle us. He spoke of an apocalyptic enemy that we could never wrap around our heads, but would nevertheless make us anxious.

    Every Friday afternoon we’d get military training. They taught us how to form, march and receive orders. Our instructors were cadets from the Army or people training in the reserves. We’d stand in formation under the sun for hours and jog while singing military songs.

    When the instructors of Bolivarian Class came to supervise the training, they’d treat us differently, behaving like generals of their own little army, inspiring fear and respect. In my school, in tenth grade alone, we had nine classrooms with forty students each, enough to form a small battalion.

    The Fields of Land Navigation

    The weather was humid and cold, the fog was falling over the highland. I remember leading a small squad of teenagers with faces in green and black. We were all dirty after crawling under barbed wires in disgusting trenches two feet in the mud. We had a compass and map coordinates. I gave my squad the order to advance in a line instead of a diamond shaped formation.

    We heard someone shouting ahead of us, so I raised my closed fist as a signal for them to stop. I summoned one of the boys and told him to go and have a look. Behind the bushes, there was another kid covered in what seemed like blood, grabbing at his leg as if it were destroyed, yelling that he wanted to die.

    It Was A First Aid Exercise.

    That is how one of the most important physical tests in pre-military training would start, and it was worth over half the grade. It was an entire day or two in a training camp up on a hill, going through obstacle courses, using military code all the time to communicate with one another. We had toy guns. Many of my classmates would collapse and get panic attacks. Meanwhile, the instructors would write down who was weak and who held out.

    The Elite

    After choosing the best ones out of each classroom, a group was then formed, in order to establish a particular way of segregation that mirrors the nation’s divide between Loyals and Traitors, Chavistas and Escuálidos.

    First, they were rewarded by gaining access to things and privileges that others didn’t — skipping class or extra points in their final grades — to then behave as a small and organized commune, splitting chores, gardening, maintenance and kitchen duties in the common areas that were slowly being taken over by the Bolivarian Class inside the school.

    Classrooms, labs, gardens and storage rooms that were unused, were now fixed up and ready to use, as ordered from the instructors. Later on, these places were occupied by the key people of the communal councils, battle rooms, community plans offices, and even served as strategic headquarters for armed groups and counter-insurgence, such as the Tupamaros.

    The boys would even go on weekends, or at night, to high school for maintenance, military training, getting special classes of Bolivarian thought. As any teenage group that is discovering romance and consolidating their friendships, the feeling of belonging was very powerful; there was a bond and trust, even if it isolated them from the rest.

    They were an elite group, superior and more important than their own classroom, closer and committed, with solid ideals and their own rituals.

    At the end of the school year, they organized a military parade at night — with a flag display, lit up by torches — where the boys swore in front of real military authorities that they were committed to the country. Most of these kids were aspiring to earn a spot in the Army, the police, or become political leaders in their communities. In three school terms, these instructors were able to train and indoctrinate a group of young, loyal, diligent, and fanatical men.

    The Legacy

    The last time Hugo Chávez visited my hometown was on September 21st, 2012. He was in the midst of an aggressive presidential campaign for the October elections and he gathered his followers in the Campo Elías viaduct. I went along with my girlfriend at the time to take photos. The atmosphere was very strange and religious, the fervor and ecstasy that Chávez’s presence inspired was impressive.

    I was terrified, I couldn’t conceive how so many seemed to be in love with one man. I pointed my camera to the stage and that’s when I understood:

    Among the guards, I saw familiar faces from my teenage years, and also among the community leaders and volunteers.

    There wasn’t a day between 2003 and 2013 that Chavismo wasn’t threaded into every fiber of the fabric of my life. It was present in my education, in my community, and inside my family.

    Chávez and all his ideas were the white noise that would repeat itself like an echo in every place I inhabited. It was a very efficient system that kept perfecting itself so that people couldn’t fathom a world without him.

    To live during those years of Chavismo was like being trapped inside another person’s dream. OR YOUR NIGHTMARE.

    When I took to the streets to protest in 2014, I had no doubt that among those repressing and shooting at us were my old classmates, to whom we were only a bunch of traitors. In the end, they did keep their oath.

  • wally n  On November 9, 2019 at 10:32 am

    And the poor guys keeping the old ass machines, flying. NADA always left out

  • Clyde Duncan  On November 9, 2019 at 2:33 pm

    MARACAIBO: The Story of Venezuela’s Collapse

  • Hylton Fernandes  On November 9, 2019 at 10:41 pm

    Blame AMERICA for the devastation of Venezuels’s Economy, the have implemented the most stifling sanctions because the coup to STEAL Venezuela’s did not materlize. America is the world’s worst terrorist. They are doing the same thing in Syria by force.

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