(Treasures From The Pioneer Era, reported by Ernie Tanner)
Back in the early 70s, we heard a lot of reports about helicopter operations in the war being waged in the jungles of Vietnam. I couldn’t stop thinking about those agile aircraft. A helicopter would have taken perhaps only two hours to cover the laborious and dangerous eight-day trek along the Gorilla Path through Cameroon’s jungle. “It must be possible to use one of these for aid operations in third world countries, too,” I reflected. But the idea would still have to overcome two major hurdles.
The first problem was my fear of flying which I’d had since a friend in America unexpectedly flew acrobatics with me!
The second problem was money. Where fear was plentiful, money was totally absent. All the same, I embarked on the “helicopter venture” even though a leader of an organization in the USA warned me with the words, “Ernie, don’t do it. You’ll kill yourself.” The notion that a helicopter would enable me to visit so many remote tribal areas prevailed over my objections.
In the spring of 1971, I passed the test for flying fixed-wing aircraft, and in fall I obtained my helicopter pilot’s license in just three weeks.
Full of great expectations I took off on my first flight from Belp, near the city of Bern in Switzerland, to Trogen in Appenzellerland where I lived with my family. A historic day for us! And my first horror trip! The warning light for carburator icing began to blink and all my efforts did not help. I radioed the airport and reported that I would be flying back because of technical problems, not knowing if I would make it back. My thoughts raced. Was this already the end before it had begun? This was not exactly an encouraging start, especially if your destination is Africa!