Gunship Ace

The Wars of Neall Ellis, Helicopter Pilot and Mercenary

Al J Venter

Neall Ellis is the best-known mercenary combat aviator alive. This book describes the full career of this storied aerial warrior. 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.
Date Published :
January 2021
Publisher :
Illustration :
with 32 b&w illus thruout, plus two 16-page color inserts
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612000701
Pages : 336
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : Available
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781612009438
Pages : 368
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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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 just two years as a “civilian contractor,” Ellis flew 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's 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.

About The Author

Al J. Venter is a specialist military writer and has had 50 books published. He started his career with Geneva’s Interavia Group, then owners of International Defence Review, to cover military developments in the Middle East and Africa. Venter has been writing on these and related issues such as guerrilla warfare, insurgency, the Middle East and conflict in general for half a century. He was involved with Jane’s Information Group for more than 30 years and was a stringer for the BBC, NBC News (New York) as well as London’s Daily Express and Sunday Express. He branched into television work in the early 1980s and produced more than 100 documentaries, many of which were internationally flighted. His one-hour film, 'Africa’s Killing Fields' (on the Ugandan civil war), was shown nationwide in the United States on the PBS network. Other films include an hour-long program on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as well as 'AIDS: The African Connection', nominated for China’s Pink Magnolia Award. His last major book was 'Portugal’s Guerrilla Wars in Africa', nominated in 2013 for New York’s Arthur Goodzeit military history book award. It has gone into three editions, including translation into Portuguese.


Author’s Note

1 Formative Days In Southern Africa
2 Early Days In The South African Air Force
3 Early Days During The Border War
4 Soviet Sams Versus Helicopters In The Bush War
5 Into Angola With The Gunships
6 Death Of A Good Man
7 Koevoet, Night Ops And A Life-Changing Staff Course
8 New Directions—Dangerous Challenges
9 Executive Outcomes In West Africa
10 Into The Congo’s Cauldron
11 On The Run Across The Congo River
12 Back To Sierra Leone—The Sandline Debacle
13 Taking The War To The Rebels In Sierra Leone
14 The War Gathers Momentum
15 The War Goes On . . . And On . . .
16 The Mi-24 Helicopter Gunship Goes To War
17 How The War In Sierra Leone Was Fought
18 Operation Barras—The Final Phase In Sierra Leone
19 Iraq—Going Nowhere
20 Air Ambulance In Sarawak
21 Tanzania
22 Neall Ellis Flies Russian Helicopters In Afghanistan



“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

"Reading as dramatically as a finely scripted novel, "Gunship Ace: The Wars of Neall Ellis, Helicopter Pilot and Mercenary" is an impressively blending of biography and military history – making it certain to be an enduringly valued and unique addition to community, community and university library Military Aviation History collections."

- Midwest Book Review

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