Air America buffs will remember the venerable  U-17, none of which were ever in Laos, of course. And even had some FNG inadvertently become disoriented and landed up country, they were all suitably designated as official USAF Inventory. Well, most of them, anyway. Rumor had it that old Bob Tyrell, the Air Attache  at the US Embassy in Vientiane, had a few salted away here and there  with the Laotian Erawan on them. Nobody’s perfect. You could never be too rich, too thin, or have enough unmarked air assets.

I bid on an auction item at the Flavors of Fall celebration last September wherein we raise funds for our Community Civic Center every several years. I managed to “storage wars” my way through to a winning bid. I paid far too much but it all goes back to the community so it’s well-spent. Former Navy Carrier Pilot Tom H.  had graciously offered his Cessna 180 for a several hour tour of Mt. Rainier and St. Helen’s  south of us. I didn’t know he was a snow bird, so when I called to collect on my bid, I found him holed up in Arizona. We reconnected several days ago and tomorrow is the official sightseeing day. My grandson Conner has no clue we’re going up, so this should be a good show and tell. News and film tomorrow evening at 6.

Something bit me when I thought back on the Cessna model number so I looked it up. Sure enough, Tom’s Cessna 180 is virtually the same aircraft as a U-17 in which I spent many hours during the war. It was one of those mismarked aircraft like the one below that Col. Tyrell spent so much time denying he owned. I thought they belonged to USAID or USIA. In the back of my mind, the fact that an Air America PIC (pilot in charge) was at the helm didn’t make me blink an eye. Nothing was as it seemed anyway. You generally don’t ask a lot of questions when your ID is bogus and you aren’t really there. Besides, the Agency for International Development delivering M-79s and lots of 40mm with a side of rice seemed perfectly normal in 1970.

imagesThe Cessna 185 (below) was technically the U-17 but the difference in nomenclature is  virtually unnoticeable. The 180 has one less far rear window and is slightly shorter with less cargo space :

images (1)

Here’s the 180:

1954 C-180A N3143C 001

Fond memories of a loyal workhorse that always got us home. It  will seem strange to be back in a taildragger. The last time I was in one was 1971. Vets can see how they got their name. The third wheel was in the back rather than tricycle style. If you caught a brisk crosswind when landing, you might do what was called a ground loop which usually damaged the aircraft. It’s hard to control any aircraft when you’re spinning in a circle at 70 knots on the ground. Some of the Lima sites we landed at were pretty rough. It was not unheard of to rip the back wheel off. You saw a temporary stick tied to some until they could be flown down to Udorn for a repair job. Pilatus PC-6 Porters were the worst.

We also flew in the U-17’s baby brother, a (just barely) two seater with the pilot and passenger inline rather than tandem. This was the Cessna O-1, another taildragger:

images (2)

The 0 in the tail number declared that it was “obsolete” although this was a newer “E” model. We gave a lot of these to the guys with the three-headed Elephant on their planes. They were really short-handed so we flew them for them too.  That’s what friends do for friends, right?

images (3)

Royal Laotian Air Force
Erawan aircraft insignia

About asknod

VA claims blogger
This entry was posted in From the footlocker and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Choctaw says:

    Cool flashback and history lesson. It will be a fun day for Granddad and Grandson.

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