his sandy hair. "I was senior person in the country at that time attached to the embassy," which was then limited to 200 names total. He left Phnom Penh in April 1975, and three months later left Helio as well.
"I learned to fly in Cambodia to protect my own skin," Davis explains. "I knew the Stallion would get me out. Also, we didn't have anyone else to do functional test flights." With approval from the embassy, Davis began going aloft, though "I didn't actually do any takeoffs and landings for almost a year." Pilot in command was a Cambodian maintenance officer. "We flew out wrecked airplanes and so on, and I got a little bit of time in a U-10 (Helio Courier) that belonged to the embassy."
By the time he came home though, he had no license, Davis had 383.6 hours in an AU-24, including over 100 hours of night combat missions and considerable instrument time. Davis recalls flying a repaired AU-24 to Phnom Penh, 2 1/2 hours IFR on the same day a T-28 and a C-123 were lost due to weather crashes.
"I decided I'd better get my private pilots license, so I got that in a Cherokee 140" at Tulsa after returning to the States, finding, in the process, that everything was totally opposite from the Stallion I'd learned to fly in Cambodia. I find myself gettin' into trouble sometimes in another airplane," says Davis, who now has logged more than 700 hours.
Shortly after he earned his private license, Davis got a call from some Alcor representatives in San Antonio who were interested in buying three surviving AU-24s which had ended up in Bangkok, Thailand-flown out of embattled Phnom Penh in USAF cargo planes. The Helios were now up for sealed bid, and the callers wanted to
know what the aircraft should be worth.
Of the three, the Alcor bidders got one. The other two went to Anchorage investors Mike Schachek, Jack Turinsky, and Gene Reed, who bought them after looking up a description in Janes's. Since they already owned two of the three, they also succeeded in buying the third from Alcor.
Davis called the Alaskans and offered to get the planes out of Bangkok. "I told them I guaranteed nobody else was gonna get'em out of the country for them. I knew where the records were." Thus, Davis went to Bangkok late in May, 1976.
The three planes arrived in the States 60 days later, to the surprise of the Thai government, who'd planned to block their removal, and perhaps the US government as well. They were the first U.S. military export cargo to return home since the early 60's.
Originally intended for CIA/Air America use and various "sneaky pete" missions, the AU-24s were among the least-known military aircraft of all time. Both they and the AU-23s were used for flights into Laos and northeastern Cambodia from Vietnam. Later, they were turned over to the VNAF and, when the U.S. began direct support of the Lon Nol regime in its war against the expanding Khmer Rouge, they were transferred to Phnom Penh.
Davis, an unabashed partisan, calls the Fairchild/Pilatus AU-23 "the box the Stallion came in," explaining there's no difference in cost, the Porter is less forgiving, the fuel consumption is higher, the speed lower, the useful load 300 pounds less. He also says the airplane had to be beefed up to carry 5,100 pounds, and it lost the tail when powered by the geared Garrett engine.
In contrast, Davis notes, "we'd nor-
mally fly three or four missions a day, an average of 2.9 hours per mission" in the AU-24s. "We had the highest utilization rate in Southeast Asia. Three days before the close of the was, in 1975, every AU-24 in Southeast Asia except for one already shipped out in a box on a C-123 was available and flyable. That's 12 airplanes-at the end of the war. Its phenomenal. It was all done by the Cambodians," despite a total lack of spares. "When we closed the war down, they didn't quit like the Vietnamese did. They just kept flying till hey ran out of gas."
Of 16 Helios built, one crashed in March 1973, with munitions and six personnel on board-overgross, out of C.G. and with inexperienced personnel-the incident which first sent Davis to Cambodia. One was lost in the Tonkin Gulf on the last day of the war, out of fuel. Three were shot down and not repaired. The balance were at two Cambodian bases, and only the three which made it to Bangkok were salvaged.
The Military Equipment Delivery Team-Cambodia (MEDTC) had T-28s, AU-24s, C-123's, AC-47s with quad .50s, regular C-47s and UH-1H gunships and slicks, and a team of six to nine joint-service personnel. "We flew night missions, with rockets and 20 mm and so on, for almost a year before the (military) mission recognized it," pioneering attack methods in the AU-24. On the other hand, the T-28s didn't fly at night under any conditions until very late in 1975, when they joined the Stallions on interdiction patrols up and down the Mekong.
Several times, Davis recalls receiving accurate ground fire and coming home to find holes in the wings and fuselage, but "nothing earth-shaking. Normally I never even knew I had a problem."
Back at base, there were other troubles. "We were getting an average of 75 rounds a day, incoming, on the airport" from red artillery around the embattled Cambodian capitol. Davis recalls walking out of his office at the field one day and going to his car. "I came back and my office was gone."
But the aircraft suffered worse than the personnel. No Americans were killed, "We were lucky. We were in the right place at the right time."
On the other hand, the first of the restored survivors, now a veteran of civil flying in both Alaska and the Andes, had over 800 bullet holes in it. Others were as riddled. Even so, the fleet racked up an estimated 19,000 hours total time, much of it combat use. "We had one with 2,400 hours"