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SFT Stories: Captain Mark Kelly and the DHC-4 Caribou

Mark Kelly on the Caribou flight deck

For those not already aware of his many and varied extra-curricular activities, Sydney Flight Training Instructor Mark Kelly is a contributing member and pilot at HARS (Historical Aircraft Restoration Society) based at Shellharbour. HARS museum was established over 50 years ago and is run by a group of volunteer aviation engineers, pilots and enthusiasts who, through their love of aviation, strive to maintain in both static and flying condition, a diverse range of historic aircraft.

In amongst their collection of retired airliners and vintage aircraft is the De Havilland DHC-4 Caribou, an aircraft that former RAAF Flight Lieutenant and ex-Qantas Captain Mark Kelly has a long and fond association with. His extensive experience flying the Caribou during his career in the RAAF and for HARS today, means Mark has a wealth of stories to share. We are fortunate at SFT to have Mark as both a friend and mentor to share his knowledge and experience with us.

Mark takes us through some of the more memorable moments from his time flying the Caribou during peace keeping ops in Kashmir.

40 years of loyal service

Flying the Caribou once more reminds me of my time serving as a pilot in Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, as part of the Peace Keeping operation U.N.M.O.G.I.P. Number 38 Squadron RAAF formed ‘Det B’ to support the UN Military Observer Group.

Flying in the challenging environment of the Himalayas tested the white painted UN seconded Caribou and the pilots tasked with flying our magnificent ‘Bou’. Both the crews and the aircraft were up to the challenge, much as it was during its 40 years of RAAF service. From its Vietnam ‘birth in fire’, straight from the De Havilland factory to war, New Guinea operations, Kashmir and disaster relief ops, the Caribou demonstrated its incredible versatility.

DHC-4 Caribou aircraft in flight

Who needs a runway?

I arrived in Srinagar in August 1977 straight from a tour in West Irian (Indonesian New Guinea). There was a handover period of pilots between 6-month tours, to show newcomers the ropes. However, when I arrived in Kashmir, the other two pilots had come down with hepatitis and ‘Delhi Belly’, so my first flight was an operational sortie supporting the Peacekeepers. I recall we flew to Jammu where there was supposed to be a marked-out airstrip. I saw the UN vehicles and landed next to them. They drove over and then pointed out where the real airstrip was. Thank heavens for the ruggedness of the Caribou!

Another flight was to deliver supplies to a marked-out airstrip, (I got it right this time), which was in the centre of a stadium. The challenge was not to miss the stadium stands, but the cattle that were wandering all over. It would have been more of an issue explaining that I hit a sacred cow, than to my Flight Commander about damage to the Caribou.

We landed at fields that had buffalo ponds at the end of the short made-up airstrips, used jeep lights and flares to light up our runway and on rare occasions we managed to land on real runways! In those days the Caribou was rated to fly in all weathers and landing in a snowstorm wasn’t uncommon.

Mountains & Cricket

The biggest challenge of my time spent here was flying in the Himalayas, where minimum safe altitudes were over 20,000ft and we didn’t want to run in to K2 Mountain. One airfield, Skardu, was just under 10,000ft in elevation and flying a piston engine Caribou at this height gave plenty of operational challenges – the biggest being not to hit the mountains on the way there!

Oh, and did I mention at the Islamabad airfield where we were based for half the Tour that when playing airfield cricket, if you ended up with the ball in the marijuana field it was 6 and out…

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the magnificent RAAF maintenance engineers that this aircraft depended on to stay operational. Much like the involvement of the volunteers at HARS that allow us to keep operating today. The Caribou legend continues.

Flight Lieutenant Mark Kelly

38 SQN retired



In our next instalment, Mark describes flying the Sydney farewell of the ‘Queen of the Skies’ Boeing 747 jumbo jet before its - and his – retirement in 2020. And if you missed it, make sure you read about Mark's time flying - and ejecting from - the F111C Fighter Jet.


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