Copper Wings, British South Africa Police Reserve Air Wing, Volume 1
I was attracted to this volume because I'm a private pilot and have flown several of the aircraft types in this book. The story is set in Colonial South Africa, Rhodesia (now Botswana), to be exact. Like many of the British Colonial territories after WWII, the native populations began to demand independence from the Commonwealth. The methods employed to achieve this goal created conflict that was deadly at times. The Rhodesian Police couldn’t operate over the vast area it covered without air support. Lacking the money to purchase aircraft and maintain a cadre of pilots, they turned to the local population recruiting local pilots and their privately owned aircraft. From 1967 to 2000 these units called the Police Air Reserve Wings or PRAW preformed that mission.
The fleet of aircraft was the same as you might see on any civilian airport ramp including various Pipers, Cessnas, Stinsons, Luscomes and Beechcrafts. The pilots included civilian and several ex-military pilots. The Copper Wings title is derived from the call sign given to each aircraft prefixed by Copper and a number, for example copper 145. Operations included hauling police units to hot spots, providing top cover and recon, medivac and prisoner transfers and armed fire support as the war heated up.
The author states up front his intent to focus on operations of the PRAW units and avoid the political aspects of this story. For sources he draws from The Outpost Magazine a journal published by PRAW. In addition, there are numerous personal stories and photographs showing various operations PRAW undertook. The professionalism of these units mirrored the Civil Air Patrol. Members wore uniforms and the standards for training and currency were high. However, the photo on the cover shows a Cessna 206 with machine gun mounted in the rear door, a sign that the missions PRAW flew took on a more serious tone. The color side views showcase a variety of aircraft that look no different than those on the ramp at my flying club. However, the last three Cessna plates have machine guns mounted on cabin floors firing through removed doors. I wonder if that still qualifies in the civil category!
Regardless of the readers politics or personal views on the conflicts in this part of the world, this book and its companion volume are simply telling the story of some very brave men and women who risked their lives to do what they thought was right. As a modeling reference, there’s so much here. Most of the types depicted have kits available from Minicraft or companies like VFR models. Monograms old Piper Tri Pacer is new again since PRAW began with a small fleet of them. There are detailed photos of how guns were mounted including the mount itself and its field made sight. All told, a very interesting read with great references to inspire those of us who love civil aircraft subjects.
Thanks to Casemate Publishers for the sample copy and to IPMS for sharing a source of future projects.