Biafran Pilot Alves Pereira recounts Biafra-Uli-Sao Tome Operations

Artur Alves Pereira is a Portuguese and the Squadron Leader of the Biafran Airforce during the 1967-1790 Nigeria-Biafra war. Many years after the war the Igbos gave him the title of "Nwanne di na Mba 1 meaning "a brother in a foreign land". Alves Pereira recounts his experience in the first post Colonial war in independent Africa.

Biafra-Uli-Sao Tome Air Operations:

The Biafran war for independence from Nigeria ended 48 years ago (1970), yet the horrors that occurred before and during the civil war linger. So does the idea of Biafra: an independent African state created by Africans, not by a European colonial power drawing the boundaries, a modern state with an efficient and productive democratic government. They seem to have a life of their own. One of the reasons for this was a dramatic humanitarian airlift operated from the remote island of Sao Tome to shuttle food and medical supplies into Biafra for a civilian population being deliberately starved into submission.
Biafra Airforce Squadron Leader Artur Alves Pereira

This is one story by your friend Nwanne di na Mba 1... (Artur Alves Pereira).

As an aviation job, the Biafran Airlift attracted a fraternity of fliers from all over the world.  They were Portuguese, American, Canadian, Scandinavian, and German crews and mechanics. ARCO hired a DC7 Captain from Lapland who used to herd reindeer.  Crews from Iceland were there flying off the equator.  A few men had recently flown with the other big aviation job at the time, Air America in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  The CIA had conducted a food relief operation in Laos with Air America.  But no one talked about that, much.

Map of Biafra Air Operations and Uli Airport
I liked the Icelandic guys.  They taught me how to pronounce Reykjavik - it took a lot of practice.  When they first arrived and learned that they were to fly over Biafra without navigation lights, they refused.  It was too dangerous.  No one had told them anything about flying without nav lights.  Then someone told them that if they used lights, the Nigerians would shoot at them.  “Oh. Okay.”  And they flew. 

I flew back from Uli with them one night to rest a couple of days in S. Tome.  I was sleeping in the back of the empty plane when I woke up floating in air. Pignatelly drifted a few feet away, suspended face down with his hands crossed in front of his face, elbows up, eyes wide. After several seconds we settled back down.  I imagined that we were plunging into the sea.  The flight engineer opened the cockpit door and peered back at Pignatelly and me to see if we were all right.  When he saw that we were not hurt, he smiled.  “The pilot wanted to make joke on you.” 

Biafra Air Operations
I said, “You mean, he did that on purpose?” 

“Yes! Yes!” nodding with delight.  The pilot had arced the plane up into a ballistic trajectory, and for a brief time we were in freefall, zero G.  Thanks to them I got to experience weightlessness without ever becoming an astronaut.
Sao Tome Airport
In S.Tome we ate and drank at places like the Hotel Salazar, high on a hill overlooking the bay, the town, and the Aerogare.  Most of our daily meals were taken at Senhor Costa’s, where we also rented our rooms.  There were afternoon snacks at the Baia where they served Cuca a Copo, a Portuguese beer, and sausicha, which was something like a hot dog.  From the Baia we could look across the bay and watch planes landing. For more formal meals we dined at the CafĂ© Yong.
Holy Ghost Fathers and Caritas on Biafra Operations

Few days later we returned to Uli, this time with the Portuguese Cap Manuel Reis. The bombs didn’t fall at every landing, but often enough... We use to say.

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