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The 1980’s – Memories of Lethem – by Frank Roman

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This picture was taken on one of my trips

First Published: 14th of August, 2020

Last updated: October 15, 2023 at 21:39 pm

Did you know…that in the 1980s, Lethem was so remote, underdeveloped, and primitive that there would be cows on the airstrip where planes would land? Here is a beautiful story giving a glimpse what flying in and out of Lethem felt like in the 1980s.

I sent these pictures to a web site for Guyanese pilots and just wanted to share them and the story behind each one with you guys.

In the early to mid 80’s, I was a trader to Brazil and flew on the HS 748 weekly. We nicknamed her “Flop Hat,” although I’m not sure why. At that time, GAC had daily service into Lethem, Rupununi, Guyana South America, and the daily arrival of Flop Hat was the high point of the day. It was the only way in and out. After a short time, we could tell which aircraft was approaching – whether sky van, 748, islander, or DC 6 – by the sound of their engines.

The Lethem flights were always overbooked. Having a confirmed booking was no reason to think you had a seat in or out of Georgetown or Lethem. Many flights were late or canceled due to mechanical problems – whether pilots were sick, plane had gone to Trinidad, or “just because.”

As a result, when we got to Lethem, we never knew when we would be lucky to get on a flight back to Georgetown, Guyana. Shopping in Boa vista would take 2 days tops and it took at best a week of going to the airfield each day to make it out of Lethem, Guyana. Our early warning signal for the arrival of Flop Hat was the sweet distinctive whine of her turbines at which time all 150-200 of us traders would make a mad dash to the airfield. Flop Hat will forever have a place in my heart.

After moving to New York, one day I was driving along the Grand Central Parkway passing LaGuardia airport and I heard it–that distinctive whine, all the memories of Lethem came flooding back, and I almost ran the car off the highway trying to see the approaching aircraft as it came into view. I was disappointed and confused. It was not an HS 748 but a Fokker 28. I could not believe I was fooled but later learned that the F 28 uses the same engines as the HS 748.

One more footnote: Lethem’s runway had a problem with cows overrunning it and, as a result, many landings had to be aborted. Tony Austin and I do not recall who made a wheels up landing there after having to make a go around and they forgot to put the gear down on the second approach.

Captain Astel Paul would get really pissed off when this happened. He was known for buzzing the cows off the runway. I happened to be on an early morning flight with Captain Paul into Lethem when he spotted cows on the runway. He did some flying that morning with a planeload of us, came in at tree top height upwind so the cows would not hear the aircraft approach, and chased them off the field.

This took about 4-5 passes of aerial acrobatics at a treetop level. I think I was the only one on board who was having the time of my life. I loved it, but the lady in the isle seat next to me was not having as much fun. She had okra cookup that morning and became airsick and vomited right in the isle.

I had the isle seat next to her and with Capt Paul doing all those stunts, the vomit was all over the floor. In the middle of all that, I took off my seat belt and folded my feet under me. Bibles came out from no where. People who, for one reason or the other, were not speaking at the time were now holding hands.

But he got the runway clear. Then, on the final moment just before touchdown, the second before, a voice rang out in the cabin “oh s**t! Did he remember to put down the f***king wheels?” Then touch down.

Thank God the wheels were down. That was the best flight ever.

Mr. Frank Roman
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