Bold Beginnings – Who Dares, Wins

(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! 

Ernie Tanner with the 1st Helikopter HB-XDK