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L'Aviation Royale Khmère

The Beginning 

Before and during World War II, very few fellow-countrymen had the pleasure of flying airplanes. As Cambodia was part of the French Union, the few Khmer pilots of that time flew within the French Air Force. In 1939, Prince Sisowath Monipong went to the French Air Academy at Salon de Provence, and during World War II, Prince Sisowath Sundeth served as  a B-26 Marauder’s pilot with the Free French Air Force and fought during the Campaign of Italy.

Sisowath Monipong, 1939  >>
see "Les Debuts"

Sisowath Monipong - Aug 1939

Later on, several Army officers got their private pilot certificate at the Phnom-Penh Flying Club. Some of them joined the Aviation Royale Khmère (AVRK), when it was created in 1954. 

In 1940, during the conflict over Cambodian western provinces between France and Thailand, ally of Japan, it seems there were no Cambodian pilots among the French aviators. We pay tribute to all the French aviators who fought in the Cambodian sky but may our French friends forgive us, this is part of another Story....

In 1945 after the departure of the Japanese forces, the only remaining Air Force in Cambodia was the French Armée de l’Air. It continued to provide air transport and some close air support missions during the Indochina War. In 1953 the French finally made plans for an autonomous military Khmer Aviation.

In April 1954, a royal decree officially created the 'Aviation Royale Khmère' (AVRK). Ngo Hou, a doctor and flying club pilot, was appointed as the Chief of Staff of the AVRK. Keu Pau Ann, a former inspector of the Department of Forestry, as well as a member of the flying club, became his assistant. Both respectively received the assimilated ranks of Lieutenant-Colonel and Captain. A staff was formed with army officers, assisted by French Air Force advisers placed under the command of Major De Salabery.

Immediately, a group of French Air Force advisers set an instruction program for the future Khmer aviators (see. notes of pilot instructor André Bellouard) The first recruiting campaign was launched. Several contingents of technical students were subsequently sent to different specialty schools in France. Five air cadets then entered the Class 1954 of the prestigious French Air Academy (Ecole de l’Air) at salon de Provence to be trained as pilot officers. Two more air cadets later joined the same academy as technical-engineer officer. (See 'Ecole Militaire de l’Air' Air Academy 1954). Meantime at Pochentong, the new Royal Flying School, under the command of French Captain Robert Carbonel, began the training of eighteen Khmer pilot students of Class 1 (1954).
Fletcher 25D F25-1954.jpg
Ph Cdt Gacoin via A.Grandolini

1954      Class One of the 'Ecole Royale Khmère de Pilotage'


The instructors at the Royal Flying School were exclusively French. At the end of their training, four of Class One students were selected to attend a complete three years French training cycle at the French Air Academy, Salon de Provence (Class 55).

For these students and all the others, over several years, the advanced trainings and the application schools marked out their beginning career. They had attended various French schools at Marrakesh (French Morocco), Tours, Cazaux , and Nancy for fighter pilots and Avord and Toulouse for transport pilots. Some of them also attended the CESA (Centre d’Enseignement Supérieur de l’Armée de l’Air), the Command and Staff College, at Paris. Some others moreover went to Germany for advanced trainings in close air support techniques according to NATO standards.

  ... Class 1, 1954 ..continue... 

At the beginning of 1955 the Royal flying school began to receive the first brand new Morane Saulnier 733 training aircrafts.
Class_1_2  Class_1_3  Class_1_4

Meanwhile, in 1954, the French had opened a school for the non-commissioned mechanical officers. After graduation, these students completed their training cycle in France where others had also directly started their instruction, particularly at Rochefort.

1955      Class Two


Between 1955 and 1956, there were several incursions of Vietnamese communists in Cambodia but the young and still organizing AVRK played no role in pushing them back. Its first pilots were in fact still in advanced training stages in France and the newly organized Intervention Group was not yet fully operational.


There was no recruitment for the Royal flying school in 1956, but three Cambodian air cadets entered the French Air Academy and Air Military School at Salon de Provence for administration, telecommunication and technical courses (see Salon 1956). The Americans started to deliver eight Cessna L-19A Bird Dogs and three DHC L-20 Beavers. In France the advanced trainings continued with good results.

EASalon_56_Satto_ThN.jpg Bounky-Salon_sm.jpg
  Satto (left) and Bounky, "Promotion 55, Ecole de l'Air de Salon de Provence" (French air academy) with the new Fougas
 >> video available <<
Some of the numerous NCOs trained in France. Here at Paris with
four 'Ecole de l'Air française' cadets and Lon Nol, secretary of defense visiting cambodian students in France.

1957 - 1958      

In 1957 there was again no recruitment. After following a special preparation-course, the air cadets sent to Salon in 1955 successfully graduated, but they would be the last ones for there was no more air cadet pilot sent afterwards to the French Air Academy. Only advanced training continued to take place in France in the subsequent years. For some unknown reason, overall, there was little recruitment during the fifteen years of the AVRK era.
Along with the training program undertaken, the Pochentong Air Force Base was improved with the expansion of the parking area, the construction of more hangars and buildings for different services as well as new facilities for the various setting up flying units.

   Avord, 1957-58. Cne Pau Ann, Lts Butha, Doeun and Saphat. In front of an MD-315, Mao Kim Sourn.  
  Avord_1956_sm.jpg      Mao_Kim_Sourn_ThN

From 1957 to 1958, seven C-47s and fourteen T-6G Texans were delivered to the AVRK by the United States Military Assistance Advisory Group (USMAAG). Two C-47s were bought from Israel.
Additional to the Flying School, different groups are now setting up: the Territorial Group which runs up administrative tasks, the Technical Group for maintenance of equipments and aircraft and the Air Tactical Group (GATAC, Groupement Aérien Tactique) with its three squadron-sized units:

- the Observation and Accompanied in Combat Group
- the Intervention Group
- the Liaison and Transport Group

The Transport Group, as it had done since the beginning, carried out regular flights for the benefit of the new provinces of Koh Kong, Rattanakiri, and Mondulkiri.

Inventory 1958 (source A.Grandolini)

Royal Flying School
 15 Morane Saulnier MS 733 Alcyon

Intervention Group
   3 Fletcher FD-25B
 14 T6-G Texan

Observation and Combat Accompanying Group
  8 Cessna L-19 Bird Dog
Transport and Liaison Group
  2 Cessna 170
  2 Cessna 180
  3 DHC L-20 Beaver
  9 Douglas C 47
  2 Douglas DC 3


1958       Class Three

In Indochina, the general trend of France policy was toward the withdrawal from the area, letting the Americans stepped in and get more and more involved in neighboring Vietnam. On the contrary, in Cambodia, the French military continued to play an important part in the development of the AVRK.
Since the creation of the AVRK, the Royal Flying School was practically directed by French advisers, commanded successively by Captain Carbonel and then Captain Gaspard. At the end of 1958, command was gradually transferred for the first time to a Cambodian officer, Lieutenant Norodom Vatvani. The school was renamed Royal Air Academy. With the help of the French and Cambodian flight instructors, Vatvani was in charge of the pilot training until 1970. From 1954 to 1970, the Royal Air Academy had trained only seven classes with a total of one hundred sixty navigators and pilots.

AVRK_Cliche.jpg BaleySattoSithiya-Avord.jpg
Privates, pilots, French advisers and instructors. 
Ven Runnath (méca. nav.), ?, ?, ?, Kuch Cheng Heng (méca. nav.),
Keam Edouard (Off Méca.), Cdt Gacouin, ?, ?, Pao Lim Sina.
Avord airbase, 1959. Baley, Satto et Sithiya


1960      Class Four

Before being considered as "Aspirant" (Officer Cadet), two years of studies are now mandatory.

The Transport Group accomplished innumerable flights to the foreign countries for the numerous official visits of the Chief of State. At the beginning, the crew members for the Chief of State’s airplane were exclusively French. The others airplanes were flown by Khmer crews. In 1960, the Transport group took its first trips for a long overseas journey to Cairo, Belgrade, Zagreb, and Skopje.

In 1962, the AVRK went to visit the neighbouring countries in the south of Cambodia including stops at Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Then to the west, the AVRK flew as far as Calcutta, Delhi, Poona, Bengalore and Madras; the return flights were via Mandalay in Burma. From Mandalay they headed for Kunming and Nanning in the communist China. These two last stages were true adventures. In bad weather conditions over the high mountains, the  radio communications with the air traffic control stations were really bad. At that time, in that region of China, the only navigation aids were the “gonio” Goniometric system (see the travel logs)


Swimming in the river for the air cadets was followed by rescue drills in flying suits in the water. Flight safety officer never ran out of imagination for lasting and necessary pilot training !


1961    The Fouga Magisters
(see video in the Links page)                     

Since 1956 in France, our pilots were already trained on jet aircrafts like Fouga Magister CM-170s at the French Air Academy (1957), and later on, our fighter pilots flew on T-33s and Mystère IVs at Tours, Cazaux, and Nancy. But it was not until 1961 that the AVRK got its own Fouga Magister CM-170 jet aircrafts. 

Cne Sam Or
Sor Bunky and a pilot detachment for a demonstration flight
(see videos in the Links page)

A small group of pilots went to the US Air Force Bases (Williams AFB ?, Lackland AFB) to fly on American Jets fighters. Several other, after their training in France, were sent to Russia for conversion-training on Mig-15s and Mig-17s. It was not enjoyable experiences.

1962   Class Five

  Su Sampong,
Su Sampong
Sisowath Samyl,  Ea Y ->
and the others...>>>

In 1962, the AVRK started to take part in combat operations. The AVRK T-6Gs carried out air supports to the Khmer ground troops in the region of Takeo. They drove a group of armed Vietnamese belonging to a religious sect of Dao Hòa Hào away from Cambodian soil. This group progressively came to settle in Cambodia and then expelled the Cambodian peasants from their lands.



Penn Randa, Sok Sambaur, Pal Sam Or, Thach Penn, Sisowath Monirak
Ma Kim Oeurn, Neang Lee, Som Kuon, Som Bora, Om Kon


1963    American T-37s and Russian MIG-15s and MIG-17s

After French Fouga Magister CM-170 jet airplanes, the USA delivered the T-37s. A few months later, the Russians brought in the MiG-15UTIs, and Mig-17Fs. One year later, the Chinese came with additional MiG-17s. The AVRK was now equipped with a hundred aircrafts of different types. This variety of aircrafts was nothing else than tremendous logistic problems for maintenance and supply. Moreover, the Chief of State, Sihanouk, ordered the United States Military Assistance Advisory Group (USMAAG) to leave Cambodia in January 1964. The American technical support was then subsequently suspended. Fortunately, AVRK had an excellent technical department with highly qualified technical officers and non-commissioned officers, as well as a staff of French advisers, who were able to fill in some of the deficiencies. In 1964, the technical services then started to perform general overhauls for the MS-733s, Cessna 170s, 180s, L-19s, and carried out partial overhauls of the C-47s and MD-315s. The C-47s for their complete overhauls were sent to the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (HAECO). For the T-28s and the helicopters, the AVRK mechanics dismantled the engines and we conveyed them in our C-47 cargos to the HAECO as well for a complete check and repairing. Overall, the AVRK managed to keep a high training level for its pilots.

1963  Class Six  

 Six month of military training during the initial three year studies :
phok_10.jpg  Class_6     
Phok Kim Onn

Diplomatic relations and the Chief of State trips to foreign countries increased at a good pace during those years. Steadily, the AVRK staff officers also started to take part in military and diplomatic delegations.

 AVRK continue ...