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L'Aviation Royale Khmère

Cambodia, Labansiek airfield

Cambodia: Aviation Royale, a Mig from Russia

MIGs Cambodgiens 1er Esc de Chasse

Cambodge, "Les trois frontières" au Nord-Est
"Les trois frontières"


With the will of the kingdom policy, we successively swung from one superpower nation to another. In 1964, China came with its Mig-17s, its pilot instructors and a flying training program.

In 1964 during the conflict with the Thais over the disputed Preah Vihear Temples, the AVRK C-47s dropped several paratroop battalions in the border area; quickly, a landing strip for the C-47s and An-2s was improvised to supply the Army troops. After several intrusions into the Cambodian air-space by Thai airplanes, detachments of MiG-17s and A-1D Skyraiders were deployed at Siemreap and Battambang. The combat air patrols often encountered the Thai aircrafts, but there was no incident; everyone stayed in its own air space.

Tensions also rose up on the eastern border when, on March 21, 1964, two Khmer T-28Ds surprised one South-Vietnamese O-1 in Cambodian air space. They shot it down, killing the pilot and the US observer. In the east region of Rattanakiri Province, two MiG-17s flown by Capt. Penn Randa and Capt. Pal Sam Or, surprised  two South Vietnamese Skyraiders inside Cambodia. After a warning cannon-fire burst by Capt. Sam Or, the South-Vietnamese pilots promptly left Cambodian air space. Frequent air encounters took place in the eastern region of Kampong Cham Province as well
In another incident, the Cambodian A-1Ds, on their way to intercept intruders, were fired on by Khmer anti-aircraft artillery who had mistaken them for Vietnamese Skyraiders. After this incident, the high command decided to paint an identification red band outlined by blue borders, the color mimicking our national flag, on the rear fuselage of the A-1Ds.

There were then several air encounters involving the Khmer MiG-17s and the American F-100s. Very often we saw jet intruders on the radar. Obviously, they too, detected our send in interceptors. When US airplanes were at sight, they were already retreating to the Vietnamese air space. Officially the Americans did not conduct any military operations in Cambodia and they avoided any single incident. Each time, each side broke off without opening fire.

Since the years 1963-1964, several air-navy drills were conducted. During those exercises, our fighter pilots practiced firing on floating targets. Maritime border incidents also frequently happened and observations aircraft were regularly sent to patrol over the coastline. Often they reported illegal settlement of fishermen from neighboring countries on Cambodian islets. The Khmer Navy would then render to the indicated place with representatives of Custom Administration. In order to discourage future illegal arrivals with families that complicated the situation, our seamen had to burn down the settlements

In turn, several AVRK transport crews were detached to fly with the national airline company, Royal Air Cambodge (RAC). They upgraded their qualification training on four engine aircrafts like DC-4s, DC-6s, and French made twin jet SE 210 Caravelles with French airline companies UTA (Union Transport Aérien) and Air France that were partners to RAC. Several of them thus obtained their airline pilot license from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for international flights connecting Phnom Penh with several important cities in South East Asia.(Manilla, Hong Kong, see complementary note)

In 1964, we welcomed our first physician specialized in Aeronautical Medicine, Doctor So Satta (see the medical service). 

1965   A big reversal 

Cambodia was now part of the so-called "non aligned countries". With this new political orientation and obligation, it has been decided to buy Yugoslavian UTVA liaison planes. Our aviation will soon be a real live Air museum with samples of airplanes from both East and West block.

In August, 1965, the Thai artillery shelled Cambodian positions at Trad, a small village on the Koh Kong peninsula. The AVRK was about to conduct reprisal strikes. Captain So Satto, Air Tactical Group Commander, planned a bombardment of the Thai positions by the A-1Ds under the protection of the Mig-17s. Fortunately, a cease-fire was reached before the attack. (see complementary notes)

At the end of November 1965, a new military cooperation mission delegation went to China. It was a big...

.... reversal in the politics of Prince Sihanouk

Beijing November 25, 1965
Behind the Cambodian flag, ambassador Troung  Cang. Behind the Chinese flag, Chu En-LAi   ...
see other photos

One more trip, one more mission for the AVRK but this one had a particular aspect. Once arrived in China, the chief of mission, Lon Nol, received an order from the Chief of State Sihanouk. Aside from his mission, Lon Nol must discreetly confirm a secret treaty consented by Prince Sihanouk authorizing the use of the Kompong Som port facilities for arms and supply transit for North Vietnamese communists. Disappointed, Lon Nol informed all the members of his delegation including the AVRK Air Tactical Group Commander : "This accord makes us lose our neutrality. Our prince allowed the 'thmils’ to come in our country (thmil = Cambodian word for devil)." 
We were no longer neutral. More precisely, our neutrality consisted of swinging from one side to another, or playing two cards in the same time. We are not politicians but we witnessed some of the major politcal envents of the country.


In 1967, at Samlaut, a peasant revolt burst out against the government. The Army intervened to restore order (complementary notes). Cambodian communists got involved in the revolt and supplied the peasants with arms. The AVRK was deployed to support ground troops. At the end of the year, the Chief of State, Sihanouk, in a surprising move, denounced the interference from China.

H19 Sikorsky
Tan Chhan, Chhim Sophoin, Khun Son Sann
Observation pilots
Un Lun Chik, Bun Theng, Long Trasom, Nouth Kimly Vanna, Sok Sap

Since 1966, the Air Tactical Group had to control and confirms the intelligence data provided by the Army about the Vietcong sanctuaries inside our border. The AVRK reconnaissance aircraft took pictures of those areas and established their exact coordinates. However, by 1968 it was more and more difficult for our planes to fulfill their reconnaissance tasks; the flights over the sanctuaries turned out to be very dangerous. For confidential reasons, only the Air Tactical Group Commander was authorized to consolidate the geographical surveying, which was then transmitted to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Almost every time, sooner or later, those plotted sanctuaries were bombed by the Americans. Of course, we guessed that the Americans had very sophisticated detection devices that confirmed our own target files but it was difficult to systematically believe in coincidences... And at the same time, the Cambodian government protested against the bombing!




In 1968, General Ngo Hou retired. Colonel Keu Pau Ann took the place of Chief of Staff of the AVRK, and Major So Satto was appointed as Deputy Chief of Staff. Kret_SCEM

AVRK inventory in 1968 (source A.Grandolini) 

Royal Air Academy

  8 Yak 18
15 MS 733
  4 CM-170 Fouga Magister
  4 T-37B Tweety

The jets (T-37s and Fouga CM 170s) were used for training by young pilots before their posting to the MiG-17 unit.

Intervention Group
20 Mig 17
  2 Mig 15
15 A-1D Skyraiders (8 operationnals)
+1 A-1H Skyraider du VNAF
16 T-28D (Trojan)

Observation and Combat Accompanying Group
 8 Cessna L-19

Transport and Liaison Group
 2 IL-14
12 C47/DC3
 6 MD-315R
 8 AN-2
 3 L-20 Beaver
 3 UTVA 56
 2 Cessna 180

Helicopter Group
2 H19 Sikorsky
1 H34 Sikorsky
2 MI-4
2 Allouette 3
5 Allouette 2
H34 - Demonstration flight at the graduation day of Class 6
(photo transmis par D.Var)

1969    Class Seven

The war in Vietnam was at its peak. The Chief of State Sihanouk now officially complained about the increasing presence of Vietcong troops in Cambodia. In order to train the Khmer Rouges, the Vietcong infiltrations went as far as the Cardamomes Mountains in Pursat Province! The Tonle Sap Lake was home to peaceful Vietnamese communities but they were now infiltrated by Vietnamese communists. The area became a convalescence center for Vietcong troops from South Vietnam battlefields. Prince Sihanouk no longer protested against the increasing and intense American bombings over Cambodia.  


L to R. : Lts S. Sivatha - K. Son Sann - S. Samyl - T. Kim Suor. In a few months, they will be rushed into the war. We won't see Sivatha et Son Sann anymore. Samyl will be seriously wounded. Suor will continue the war till the end.