I found my bird. It looked rather lonely hidden away in the hangar, with canvas covers covering the windshield. The ground crew towed it out on the psp for me and I performed a complete pre-flight. The bird was a TU206, turbocharged Utility model. Normally they are equipped with a 300/310 hp engine but this one had a special placard "see engine handbook before first flights"...
I searched the aircraft and the flight manual was nowhere to be found....all flight manuals stay with aircraft. I checked the ships log, 37 hours since new. Crated and shipped to Philair in Manial, assembled, flight tested and delivered by Bird Air pilots. No surprises there. Bill Bird ran Thai Rock Products in Udorn Thailand as a cover for the CAS operation and Lao Air Development in Lao. Scottie, the younger brother, ran Philippine Rock Products in Manila, and the Philair or Philippine Aviation Corporation. The military used a lot of Cessna Aircraft, the Birds had the dealership...
The sign on the door said TWA and below it in small letters was "Teenie Weenie Airlines". I asked the young lady inside for a flight manual for the 206... "Oh! I don't think we have one"........"uh....maam...it's required"...."well, you're a pilot, aren't you supposed to know these things??
"If you are referring to the engine, it's bigger, about 50 more horsepower, the prop speed is 15% faster that the others, propeller is also slightly larger, land tail low and don't bang the prop or tail feathers"." "I think I'll play with it"...
I threw my bail out bag inside, tied it in with the passenger seat belt, and started the engine. Gauges read about half fuel. I didn't want a full load as I needed to fly this thing and get the feel for it.
The aircraft was fitted with Robertson STOL kit, allowing the flaps to descend an extra ten degrees, the wings had fences to keep the airflow over the control surfaces, gap seals to make the ailerons more efficient. It also had tip tanks that gave an extra 30 gallons of fuel to extend the range out to about 800 miles. The STOL kit allowed shorter landing and take-off rolls and lower airspeeds on take off and approach.
I took the plane out over Quinhon harbor, advised the military of my intentions, and started playing at about 4500 feet. I would fly straight and level, then start to walk the trim backwards and the controls back, while working the throttle down to see just how slow the aircraft would fly. After several attempts, the airspeed indicator dropped to the bottom peg and sat there.....and I could hold steady flight, barely moving forward with no needle movement. That meant that the aircraft would fly and stay airborne at 35 miles per hour, which was where the airspeed indicator started.
I climbed to about 7500 feet, nosed the craft over, extended full flaps, holding the nose down well past 45 degrees, and with no load the dive could be controlled to about 55-58 mph. I then made several approaches at the runway, touch and goes to a full stop. on the short (2800 feet) runway I managed to land to a dead stop, take off, get airborne to 100 feet, and repeat/land to full stop. I did this twice in the length of the runway.....barring an engine failure, we were going to fo alright. I returned to the office.
They loaded a couple of spare base radios for me. The operation at Dong Ba Thin was "minimal" and I had to operate totally independant of the base. I had three men on site. I took a full load of fuel, and since I had nearly 1000 pounds capacity for cargo I checked our supply systems for "expenditures. I took a dozen cases of C-rats because you never know when things could get sticky, 2 water purification systems and a small portable air conditioner. Our host at Dong Ba Thin would supply us any normal support within their system. Three hours later I was "Home".....
Home was dismal. The runway was overgrown. Dong Ba Thin Special forces camp was a dry, hot, dismal, dusty compound surrounded by 8 foot high concertina wire/razor wire all around, all equipment parked in random pattern....but the quarters all neatly in a row about 20 feet apart. A mortar mans dream target. Our compound, by contrast was outside their compound and shared the fence as one side of our perimeter. The runway was surrounded by the same fence structure, and it was possible to taxi to a quonset hut and then push the aircraft inside. Our entire "world" was about an acre. For the main office/quarters we had the main hut. The guys had "salvaged" enough plywood to line the inside of the hut, and then built a wall vertically outside the hut using layers of sandbags, 4 layers deep.....it kept rockets and other shrapnel out. At each end of the hut, there were 3 CONEX boxes, each about 8 x 8 x 8 and turned so that the door opening opened to the end of the quanset hut. There were a minimum of 6 layers of sandbags all around the conex boxes and on the tops...thats where we headed when charlie started throwing things. One box was used as a galley, one for storing food, drinking water was delivered 500 gallons at a time by the guys at the Big Red 1, then we ran it through our filter systems. We had two 500 gallon water trailers parked near the fuel storage, which was two 500 gallon water/fuel tanks sitting on top of 2 conex boxes for gravity feed, they were also covered with layers of sandbags....it was hot...or muggy...or both, all the time. We had a small generator that ran all the time. Actually, we had three, and two were on line all the time, one active, the second as a hot standby. The radios were in the main quonset......the guys about had a heart attack when i brought out the air conditioner......My two generator/general help were Philippinos, they were assisted by a half American half Philippino aircraft mechanic who also worked somewhat on the radios. At various times we had 2-3 other fellows coming through, or had no where to go and were waiting on assignments. For all the time there, I cannot recall a cross word or problems with any of the personnel.
After 3 weeks of constant standby and only a couple of flights, we had a 4 day break. I needed to get to Nha Trang to pick up my wheels, but we drew straws to see who would have to stay on site....Eduard, the Philippino American stayed behind. I hopped a ride on the back of one of the guys Honda to get to NhaTrang.
I dropped in on Bill for the latest BS and one of the secrataries got me a cuppa coffee.....I had heard Bill call to her from the inner office before, and he would call "Su Chin"...Bill was not one to have ugly secretaries....both were knockouts. Su Chin was taller than the average Vietnamese, very pretty, demur, polite to a fault. I very politely ask her why Bill called her Su Chin.....she laughed and said it really was her name. She had 11 brothers and sisters and she was number nine. Su Chin means number nine.
I asked Su Chin about the best place in town to buy gold. She said a shop on Doc Lap street, Bijouterie Mai Loan. The lady was very honest. She volunteered to go there with me if I liked, to introduce me to the owner. With Bill's permission she took the afternoon off. We drove into town, had lunch at La Frigates on the main beach road, then visited the jewelry shop Mai Loan.
I didn't drink or smoke so the money stacked up. I kept about $5000 handy as my escape kitty, all excess found it's way to other pursuits.
The legal commercial exchange for Vietnamese Piasters (Dong) to a U.S. dollar was 170 to one. By changing the money at a military authorized location you would get approx. 25% more. Gold was 30-32 dollars an ounce. I was changing my cash for piasters at the military legal rates and then buying ten ounce bars of gold at effectively 25% discount. I then deposited the gold with Hong Kong Shanghai Banking corp in Saigon. I needed very little money to live on. On this particular day our payroll had arrived. I picked up the envelops for all the guys at the site. I had two shoe boxes stuffed with vietnamese piasters. Many Vietnamese people had never seen a 100 piaster note at the time......I had two shoeboxes full.....Mai Loan and I would soon strike up a most interesting business arrangement.