“PROJECT KING’S RANSOM”
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the past we’ve provided stories about rescues, firefighting
and humanitarian aid. In this edition we’ll cover a unique mission; the support in
the Aerial Mapping of Ethiopia. This project had four major players, the Ethiopian
Government under Emperor Haile Selassie I, the U.S. Army Map Service & Army Corps
of Engineers , the USAF 1370th Photographic Mapping Wing (C-130As & CH-3Cs) and
HH-43s from the Atlantic Air Rescue Center, Air Rescue Service (MATS).
Rather than covering the technical aspects and history of the mission
http://www.1370th.com/ASTs/AST4E/ast4e.html & http://www.ethi-usmappingmission.com/4436.html
I’ve decided to let the participants tell their stories in their own words and illustrated
with the photos they snapped.
Above is a map of the HIRAN Sites and major cities in Ethiopia. These radio sites
were essential for the C-130’s navigation while photographing the country and the
location on mountain tops necessitated the use of HH-43s to fly at altitude.
It seems that the "Jollys" just couldn’t get it up!!!!!
2 CH3’s and 2 HH-43’s at Ginir
Dale Dunham: When AARC asked for a volunteer for a DetCO in Ethiopia I responded that my bags
were packed and time was wasting. I guess no one else was interested in the job because they said:
“Don't let the door hit you in the ass” or something like that. I spent one year there and still don't
understand Amharic. All of the other personnel were assigned on 3 month TDYs except for Lt Nick
Thornton who hung around with me for six months. I can't remember who was there with whom for the
most part. But there were some exciting times that I will not forget. The 15 pilots and the aircrew are those
I remember best because of our time in the field. Let me preface my remarks by saying there was no
backup (except in a few isolated instances), so when our two birds went out they were on their own almost
all of the time. If you couldn't get to "civilization" on your own you were in deep Ethiopian camel dung.
John Christianson: I arrived at Hahn AB, Germany, in June 1965, then was on my way to Ethiopia
in early September and returned to Germany right before Christmas. I spent one night out in a
shelter-half (had to put two together to make a pup-tent), it was a very miserable night sleeping. After one
night out in the bush, and after hiking about a half mile to a stream to take a quick bath, we saw a lion
chasing a buck in the brush near where we made camp--this was after we had taken off. From then on,
I slept in the 43.
Dale Dunham (L) and John Christianson (R) set up camp
I set up the 43 landing spot with two holes for the front gear--this way the floor would be level. The
few inches drop it gave me worked out well. I also set up a tarp right below the azimuth doors in the
cabin and had it set to let out any water that dripped in through the rotor shaft/transmission housing
when it rained. We were there in the rainy season so this act was necessary too keep the inside of the
aircraft dry. It worked well and the water was funneled to the back step by the clamshell doors. I
also used a mosquito net with my air mattress and sleeping bag inside; all the comforts of home.
The rest of the guys wanted to sleep in tents or in a small building at Arba Minch, or wherever we
were if one was available. I did keep the rear cabin cargo net up in place in case a lion or leopard
decided to see if I was a good meal or not.
Christianson checks for Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My!!!
Don Van Meter: I was a volunteer. And, aside of Dale Dunham, think I was the second longest
tenured pilot of those that were down there. It is a very complex story. The true name of the project
was the U.S. Ethiopian Mapping Mission. The overall operation was I believe US Army with the
assistance of National Geographic Society. They had the land survey and physical identification side.
The USAF Photo Mapping Service controlled the C130 and H3 assets. We with the H43s (3) were on
Diplomatic status and assigned to the State Department. Our local control was Reed Robinson the Deputy
Chief of the US Consulate. He was under the Ambassador which headed up the Embassy. The Embassy
Air Attaché was always miffed that he was not in control as was the Army General in charge of the US
Ethiopian Military Assistance Group (MAG). Two other groups play into the matrix, the US Peace
Corps which had the largest of all their assets in Ethiopia at the time I was there and Oklahoma State
A&M (now Oklahoma State University). We carried supplies and mail to both on our missions. The
OSU group operated a High School/Jr College Trade School in Jima. We could always count on a great
chicken fried dinner and fresh strawberry shortcake with home made ice cream on our arrival.
Don Van Meter at Bole Airport Addis Ababa Don’s Birthday 1965
Neil McCutchan: After being assigned to Incirlik AB, Turkey (Det. 84 Tuslog) I got a TDY to
Addis Ababa at Christmas time. My wife Judy and I still hadn't received our Household Goods from
stateside. I flew down to Ethiopia in one of those nice noisy C130s. All of the pilots lived in one house.
We had a 'house boy' that kept us in food and laundry. One of the enjoyable parts of the TDY was
eating Chinese food. I really learned to like it there and brought that back to my family.
Capt Neil McCutchan in the boonies 1966
Dave Glick: As I recall, I volunteered for the assignment. We were in France (Laon AB) at the time.
I went to Germany for a jump off briefing and, while there, got a message that my Dad died, so I
flew back to the states and then was sent to Ethiopia on the next rotation.
Dave Glick 2005
If you participated in “Operation KING’S RANSOM” and had interesting, exciting or funny experiences,
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . We’ll be back with PART II in October.