Review: ARCHIE HENDERSON
Cowboys Don’t Fly by John Steed (Reach Publishers)
John Steed is an old hand of the Africa skies. He knows all there is to know about flying over the continent, the business and the politics, in peace and in war.
Steed, having done basic military training with the Kenya Regiment in the ‘50s before Uhuru, joined the RAF and was accepted as a pupil pilot flying BAC Jet Provosts, which served as the force’s training aircraft for 38 years. He proved a quick learner and a good pilot – until it came to flying in formation, a skill he was unable to master because of bouts of vertigo.
Rejected by the Royal Air Force, he returned to civilian life and made a success in the business of insurance broking in Kenya and Zimbabwe where he was able to pursue his passion for flying – this time without too many RAF instructors showing him how it should be done.
The bulk of the book consists of Steed’s stories of flying a variety of aircraft, as a reserve police officer in Rhodesia during the bush war and later as the owner of a charter company, which also drew him into Mozambique’s civil war as a client of the Red Cross. Some of the tales are hair-raising, others quite charming, like airlifting a black rhino from the Kruger Park to Malawi, an operation that won fame as a Discovery channel movie.
The title is a little puzzling. Steed is certainly no cowboy, having defied orders from a jumped-up junior officer during the bush war to fly in what were frankly dangerous conditions. He sensibly refused to obey – and was later backed up by higher authorities. So perhaps it applies to him.