Gunship Ace: The Wars of Neall Ellis, Helicopter Pilot and Mercenary

Overview

A former South African Air Force pilot who saw action throughout the region from the 1970s on, Neall Ellis is the best-known mercenary combat aviator alive. Apart from flying Alouette helicopter gunships in Angola, he has fought in the Balkan War (for Islamic forces), tried to resuscitate Mobutu’s ailing air force during his final days ruling the Congo, flew Mi-8s for Executive Outcomes, and thereafter an Mi-8 fondly dubbed 'Bokkie' for Colonel Tim Spicer in Sierra Leone. Finally, with a pair of aging Mi-24 ...
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Gunship Ace: The Wars of Neall Ellis, Gunship Pilot and Mercenary

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Overview

A former South African Air Force pilot who saw action throughout the region from the 1970s on, Neall Ellis is the best-known mercenary combat aviator alive. Apart from flying Alouette helicopter gunships in Angola, he has fought in the Balkan War (for Islamic forces), tried to resuscitate Mobutu’s ailing air force during his final days ruling the Congo, flew Mi-8s for Executive Outcomes, and thereafter an Mi-8 fondly dubbed 'Bokkie' for Colonel Tim Spicer in Sierra Leone. Finally, with a pair of aging Mi-24 Hinds, Ellis ran the Air Wing out of Aberdeen Barracks in the war against Sankoh's vicious RUF rebels.

For the past two years, as a “civilian contractor,” Ellis has been flying helicopter support missions in Afghanistan, where, he reckons, he has had more close shaves than in his entire previous four-decades put together.

Twice, single-handedly (and without a copilot), he turned the enemy back from the gates of Freetown, effectively preventing the rebels from overrunning Sierra Leone’s capital—once in the middle of the night without the benefit of night vision goggles. Nellis (as his friends call him) was also the first mercenary to work hand-in-glove with British ground and air assets in a modern guerrilla war. In Sierra Leone, Ellis' Mi-24 (“it leaked when it rained”) played a seminal role in rescuing the 11 British soldiers who had been taken hostage by the so-called West Side Boys. He also used his helicopter numerous times to fly SAS personnel on low-level reconnaissance missions into the interior of the diamond-rich country, for the simple reason that no other pilot knew the country—and the enemy—better than he did.

Al Venter, the author of War Dog and other acclaimed titles, accompanied Nellis on some of these missions. “Occasionally we returned to base with holes in our fuselage,” Venter recounts, “though once it was self-inflicted: in his enthusiasm during an attack on one of the towns in the interior, a side-gunner onboard swung his heavy machine-gun a bit too wide and hit one of our drop tanks. Had it been full at the time, things might have been different.” The upshot was that over the course of a year of military operations, the two former Soviet helicopters operated for the Sierra Leone Air Wing by Nellis and his boys were patched more often than any other comparable pair of gun ships in Asia, Africa or Latin America. Nellis himself earned a price on his head: some reports spoke of a $1 million reward dead or alive while others doubled it.

This book describes the full career of this storied aerial warrior, from the bush and jungles of Africa to the forests of the Balkans and the merciless mountains of today’s Afghanistan. Along the way the reader encounters a multiethnic array of enemies ranging from ideological to cold-blooded to pure evil, as well as well as examples of incredible heroism for hire.

REVIEWS

“From veteran International War Correspondent and author, Al J. Venter, we get a rare look into the profession and harrowing times of a talented pilot and gunship ace whose life reads more like an action/adventure novel than a carefully researched biography. Only this isn't fiction and the staggering risks and dangers Ellis faced time and again with daring and skill keep the story fast-paced and, well, I was going to say something trite like, entertaining. But the fact is, some parts of this story are flat out frightening... A fine tribute but then so is this book about a Gunship Ace and exceptional man who is still serving in combat zones today. This time it is in Afghanistan, where the legend and acclaim he never sought and was well earned, continues. “

Kregg P.J. Jorgenson,author of Acceptable Loss, LRRP Company Command, and Clubs Are Trumps- The Road From Plum Run.

““Ellis is clearly a superb pilot, and I can’t imagine how he survived it all. Not just surviving the usual hazards when hostiles are trying to shoot you out of the air, but surviving the actual aircraft. . . . I couldn’t wait to finish the book to see what happened to Ellis in the end. Surely he was killed somewhere long ago, but no! Neall Ellis is still out there, somewhere, flying who knows what airframe in some nasty hotspot.”
—Major Tony Vanchieri, USMC (ret.)

“Al Venter can always be counted on to provide a good read…Recommend this book for military professionals who do not know Africa, helicopter pilots who enjoy a good tale and academics concerned with the growth of private armies and contract specialists in hotspots around the planet.”
LTC( R ) Les Grau PhD, Foreign Military Studies Office

Written by renowned author and photojournalist, Al J. Venter, this book spotlights the career of a fascinating modern warrior, while also shedding light on some of the conflicts that have raged throughout the world behind the headlines.”
Tucson Citizen

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What People Are Saying

Kregg P.J. Jorgenson
From veteran International War Correspondent and author, Al J. Venter, we get a rare look into the profession and harrowing times of a talented pilot and gunship ace whose life reads more like an action/adventure novel than a carefully researched biography. Only this isn't fiction and the staggering risks and dangers Ellis faced time and again with daring and skill keep the story fast-paced and, well, I was going to say something trite like, entertaining. But the fact is, some parts of this story are flat out frightening... A fine tribute but then so is this book about a Gunship Ace and exceptional man who is still serving in combat zones today. This time it is in Afghanistan, where the legend and acclaim he never sought and was well earned, continues. (Kregg P.J. Jorgenson, author of Acceptable Loss, LRRP Company Command, and Clubs Are Trumps- The Road From Plum Run.)
Tony Vanchieri
Ellis is clearly a superb pilot, and I can't imagine how he survived it all. Not just surviving the usual hazards when hostiles are trying to shoot you out of the air, but surviving the actual aircraft. . . . I couldn't wait to finish the book to see what happened to Ellis in the end. Surely he was killed somewhere long ago, but no! Neall Ellis is still out there, somewhere, flying who knows what airframe in some nasty hotspot. (Major Tony Vanchieri, USMC (ret.))
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612000701
  • Publisher: Casemate Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/21/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Prologue 1

1 Formative Days in Southern Africa 5

2 Early Days in the South African Air Force 20

3 Early Days During the Border War 39

4 Soviet SAMs versus Helicopters in the Bush War 50

5 Into Angola with the Gunships 69

6 Death of a Good Man 81

7 Koevoet, Night Ops and a Life-Changing Staff Course 100

8 New Directions-Dangerous Challenges 117

9 Executive Outcomes in West Africa 130

10 Into the Congo's Cauldron 144

11 On the Run Across the Congo River 162

12 Back to Sierra Leone-The Sandline Debacle 175

13 Taking the War to the Rebels in Sierra Leone 187

14 The War Gathers Momentum 206

15 The War Goes On … and On … 215

16 The Mi-24 Helicopter Gunship Goes to War 227

17 How the War in Sierra Leone Was Fought 240

18 Operation Barras-The Final Phase in Sierra Leone 253

19 Iraq-Going Nowhere 263

20 Air Ambulance in Sarawak 274

21 Tanzania 288

22 Neall Ellis Flies Russian Helicopters in Afghanistan 298

Endnotes 322

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2012

    Poorly Written

    The writing in this book jumps back and forth between the author and the subject's first-person stories, making it confusing.

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    Posted August 15, 2013

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