Notes from Interview with Dad
(Lee R. Rodawalt)
July 9, 2004
Recorded and edited by Carolyn S. Rodawalt-Cunningham & Valarie J. Rodawalt
Two C-47's (known worldwide as "the Gooney Bird") were in operation at the Mapping Mission in the late 60's. The U.S. Army Mapping Mission purchased a C-47 airplane to replace the original C-47 (popularly known as Snoopy) which hit a warthog hole while landing at a remote location in the latter part of 1968. Rodawalt is uncertain about the original owner of Snoopy. He reports that the airplane may have been owned by the Ethiopian Air Force and was on loan to the U.S. Army, or the U.S. Army owned the plane and through negotiations between the U.S. State Department and Ethiopian government agreed to sell or give the C-47 to the Ethiopian Air Force.* A replacement for the C-47 in Addis was gravely needed.
Jack Miller, Lee Rodawalt, and Gerald Johns departed the Addison Airport on January 7, 1969. The flight plan was modified as the trip progressed due to diplomatic clearance issues when the pilots reached Ankara, Turkey.
Their itinerary was the following:
Depart Addison Airport (Dallas, Texas)
To Banger, Maine
To Gander, Newfoundland
To the Azores
To Ankara, Turkey
To Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Arrive Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Miller and Rodawalt rotated pilot and co-pilot positions throughout the trip. The trip took approximately twelve days. The flight segment from Dallas to Banger, Maine went as planned. However, in Gander, Newfoundland, the crew was delayed four days due to rain, fog, and wind. The flight over the Atlantic from Gander, Newfoundland to the Azores took approximately thirteen hours. The pilots flew the C-47 at an altitude between 3,000 and 4,000 feet across the Atlantic Ocean. Rodawalt reports, "a Navy PBY-5 was to escort us as we flew over water but we never saw it. However, we had radar communication with a Navy ship in the Atlantic. We also picked up a lost pilot on his radio, put him in contact with the Navy ship, and were successful in directing him back on course."
The flight path from the Azores to Ankara, Turkey took another full day. Arriving in Turkey, they were delayed three days due to security clearance issues. Diplomatic clearance to fly over Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Syria proved to be extremely difficult and the flight plan had to be revised. Rodawalt reports that, "we were forced to take the back route out of Turkey which meant going north over a dangerous mountain range."
As Rodawalt reported, "Flying out of Turkey proved to be the most treacherous part of the trip. We had to climb 15,000+ feet to ascend over the mountains; the C-47 was not equipped with oxygen. Miller almost blacked out and I also came very close." Whenever we could find open areas, we descended to lower altitudes and flew in the valleys winding our way in between mountains. "If we'd lost an engine, we'd have been in deep trouble!" Rodawalt states, "that you can only maintain 9,000 feet on one engine in a C-47." Leaving Turkey, they flew over Iran and the Persian Gulf into Saudi Arabia. The pilots flew at an altitude of 5,000 feet over Iran and Saudi Arabia.
When we landed at Riyadh Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia, the temperature had to be over 115 degrees and there was no air-conditioning in the country. We were immediately surrounded by Saudi guards who searched the C-47 for whiskey. Rodawalt reports, "To their surprise, we didn't have any! We were very anxious to leave Saudi Arabia because of the extreme heat." However, they had a one day delay due to refueling problems. The pilots left Riyadh and flew the final leg of the trip over the Red Sea into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The C-47 performed well throughout the trip. Rodawalt reports, "except for being cold most of the time in the airplane and the lack of oxygen when we had to fly at high altitudes over the mountains above Turkey, it was a good trip." Total flying time was approximately seventy hours. With the delays, they finally arrived in Addis near the end of January 1969.
In Addis, Jack Miller flew the C-47 five to six times weekly supporting the troops in the field, delivering supplies and equipment to support the goal of mapping Ethiopia. He was a master C-47 pilot.
Lee Rodawalt's main mission was supporting the troops in the field and resupplying them to lay out new "markers" for the goal of preparing a new map of Ethiopia. Rodawalt reports that the U.S. Department of State "kicked" the U.S. Air Force out of Ethiopia and the Army Mapping Mission was there in the 1960's to prepare a comprehensive map of Ethiopia. The Italians had made a brave attempt to map Ethiopia in 1898.
Lee Rodawalt was a career army officer, retired Major, and his proficiency was in helicopters but he also had numerous hours in various fixed wing aircraft throughout his military career. The assignment in Addis required Rodawalt to fly all the aircraft available there, not only the C-47, but Cessna 185, U-1 Otter, U-6 Beaver, Twin Beech L-23, and the helicopters, H-23 Hiller and UH-1B Huey.
* C-47 (Snoopy) was first used in Ethiopia as a pesticide spray aircraft by the Regional Insect Control Project/Locust Control (USAID) flying out of Liddeta Airport from 1963-1965. It was turned over to Ethiopia-United States Mapping Mission and stripped of it's aerial spray tanks by U.S. Army Specialist James Coleman and others to be made ready for use by Ethiopia-U.S. Mapping Mission.
In October of 2008 Lee Rodewalt sadly lost his wife Gloria after a union of 63 years.
In 2012 Lee moved to an independent retirement community in Fort Worth and celebrated 93 years on November 27. Lee continues to bowl three times a week in league, enjoys playing dominoes, dancing, and participating in other activities at his new home.
Gloria Rodawalt - Obituary
C-47 at Addison Airport, north of Dallas, Texas.
Mr. Lee Rodewalt passed away on February 9, 2017.
Mr. Rodewalt's obituary will be posted on the Obituaries Page of this Web site when it is made available.
From left to right:
Jack Miller (sneezing),
and Gerald Johns.
The U.S. Army Mapping Mission ordered the C-47 airplane from the U.S. Air Force. The plane (a Navy R4-D) was resurrected from the airplane graveyard in Arizona. The plane was transported to the Addison Airport in Addison, Texas thirteen miles north of downtown Dallas, where it was disassembled and rebuilt; the overhaul took approximately two months. The plane was equipped with an extra fuel tank, 700-gallon capacity, located down the center of the fuselage, in addition to its 400 gallon tanks. The cruising speed of the C-47 was 150 mph. Miller and Rodawalt tested the aircraft for a full one hour before the 10,000 mile journey. Both confirmed that the aircraft had been rebuilt to specifications and was in excellent condition.
In January 1969, Jack Miller, Lee Rodawalt, and Gerald Johns flew a 10,000 mile trip from Dallas, Texas (Addison Airport) to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to ferry a refurbished C-47 airplane to the U.S. Mapping Mission. The trip was very dangerous but not many people realized this fact, including their families.