President George Weah’s first Armed Forces Day Address last Monday, in which he announced plans to revive military Aviation in Liberia has caused the Daily Observer to remember the nation’s first certified military pilot, first international airline captain and Liberia’s most celebrated pilot. His name is Captain Prince Augustus Page.
In his brief mention of military aviation, here is what President Weah said: “Our administration will reintroduce the R.O.T.C. program in all our major universities to attract the best Liberian professionals in engineering, medicine, aviation and education. The new military, as a professional institution, should have the best doctors, pilots, engineers and specialists in training and teaching.”
Captain Prince Page, an Auto Mechanics graduate of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), Class of 1959, was throughout his four years at BWI an A student. He and his several classmates who in January 1960 took the entrance examination at the University of Liberia (UL) were among those who topped that exam.
Prince wanted to study Structural Engineering and help build Liberia’s roads and bridges. But that same year, the war in the Congo (former Belgian Congo) broke out and he and several of his BWI classmates were immediately conscripted into the Liberian Frontier Force (LFF) and sent to the Congo as part of the Liberian Peace Keeping Contingent there.
According to a book on the BWI Class of ’59, shortly to be published by the Class Historian, Kenneth Y. Best, these BWI boys were recruited mainly because they had undergone four years of R.O.T.C. (Reserved Officers Training Corps) at BWI and were now Second Lieutenants in the LFF.
They were chosen, in addition, because these BWI graduates had been trained on campus in several of the technical and vocational skills urgently needed at that very moment to help the peacekeeping efforts in the Congo.
These BWI boys had been trained in Auto Mechanics, Carpentry, Electricity, Electronics, Machinery and Plumbing. Once in the Congo, it was they who became responsible for repairing and maintaining the military’s radios, jeeps, trucks and other military equipment.
Following their tour of duty in the Congo, the Liberian contingent, mostly members of the BWI Class of ’59, returned home and immediately started rising in the LFF (now Armed Forces of Liberia-AFL).
Two of them, Lt. Paul H. Perry and Lt. Mansfield Yancy, were later promoted to General and Major, respectively.
Lt. Prince Page and Lt. Arthur Bedell, both of whom had studied Auto Mechanics at BWI, were assigned to the Air Wing of the LFF and became pilots. In 1961 the AFL sent Second Lieutenant Prince A. Page to Fort Benning, Georgia, USA for Advanced Motor Officers Training (AMOT).
That is where the genius of the Class of ’59 continued to show its colors. Prince topped his class, which included not only captains and majors from the USA and around the world, but also a First Lieutenant graduate of America’s renowned West Point Military Academy.
Following Prince’s graduation at Fort Benning, where he topped the class of 53 officers from all over the world, including the United States, the Department of the Army (DA), recommended to the Liberian government that the AFL do three things to honor this celebrated member of the BWI Class of ’59.
The first recommendation was that he be presented a Citation, and the AFL stage a parade in honor of Lt. Prince A. Page, because that is what is done in America when a military officer excels in his class. The second was that Lt. Page be considered for promotion; and the third, that he be given “priority further CONUS (Continental U.S.) training.”
Army Parade for Lt. Page: Upon his return home, the parade was indeed held in Lt. Prince Page’s honor at the Camp Schieffelin Military Base near Monrovia.
Present at the parade were the Secretary of Defense, Robert A. Brewer, Chief of Staff, General Albert T. White, the Chief of the US Military Mission in Liberia, Col. White, and other AFL senior staff officers.
Following the parade, Prince was assigned to set up the Auto Mechanics Depot at Camp Schiefflin. There he trained Liberian soldiers in auto mechanics. But because most of them were illiterate, Lt. Page had to come up with a plan. His plan was to completely disassemble a vehicle, identify the components, train the soldiers to identify, repair and test each working component; then reassemble the vehicle, restart the engine and ensure that it ran to military specification (spec).
Based on the recommendation from the US Department of the Army, Prince attended two additional military schools, the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, USA; and the Fort Rucker in Alabama, where he was certified in Tactical Military Training and Instrument Rating.
That made him Liberia’s first Certified Military Pilot. On return Lt. Page was appointed Executive Office (EXO) of the Liberia Reconnaissance (Recon) Unit. One of the unforgettable accomplishments of First Lieutenant Page for Liberia was undertaking the seismographic survey of the entire country, along with a technician from the US Mines and Geology.
Such information identifies all the different minerals that are sub-surface (under the earth), including oil and gas. After First Lieutenant Page left the AFL, he became an Airline Captain, the highest position in Aviation.
Among the few airplanes Captain Page flew and trained others to fly are the following: DC-3; Turbo Prop F-27; jets, Gulfstream-2, Boeing 737; Air Bus 310, and Air Bus 300-600; Lockheed 1011, which carried 399 passengers at the speed of Mach .85 (the speed of sound), at an altitude of 35,000 feet.
In all, Captain Page flew jets for Liberia, Nigeria, where he worked for 11 and a half years, six years in Saudi Arabia, and later in the United States, England and Iceland. He received the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Licenses in each of those countries.
He soloed twice across the Atlantic but probably Captain Prince Page’s most celebrated accomplishments came in the early 1970s when he flew solo (meaning alone in an airplane) twice across the Atlantic Ocean.
The first was when he flew President Tolbert’s propeller plane, a Cessna 402, which the Liberian government had purchased for Presidential travel. Captain Page flew this solo thru the North Atlantic from the USA to Liberia.
The second was a Piper 28, also a twin engine propeller plane, which he flew solo from the US thru Brazil via the South Atlantic to Liberia.
The plane belonged to Liberian entrepreneur and Agriculture Minister J.T. Phillips. This means that Captain Page surpassed even Charles Lindberg, the American pilot who in 1921 became the first person to fly solo across the North Atlantic, from New York to Paris.
In Captain Page’s case, he flow solo across both the North and the South Atlantic! To date, Captain Page is probably the only African pilot to have flown solo twice over the North and South Atlantic.
What an Aviation Captain! But Liberia has never honored Captain Page’s exceptional and unique accomplishments. It is, however, not too late. Captain Page, at 79, lives in Mississippi.
Captain Prince Augustus Page also flew jets for Nigeria Airways, during which time he was trained along with Nigerian pilots in France to fly the Airbus. Captain Page told his classmate, Kenneth Y. Best, author of the History of the Class of ‘59, that the Airbus is a European consortium (France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy), which revolutionized the cockpit crew concept that eliminated the requirement for a flight engineer.
This was achieved by eliminating the analogue instruments and replacing them with the cathode ray tube (TV screen) and automation. Captain Page later flew jets for Saudi Arabia, the USA, England and Iceland, before retiring.
Today Prince, the passionate auto mechanic which he became at BWI in 1959, now at 79, too old to fly, has followed his constant fascination with 18 wheeler trucks that dominate the American highway system.
So one day few years ago he undertook training in these 18-wheeler trucks. There, the brilliant Prince again topped his class, especially when he outperformed all his classmates in reversing and parking the 18-wheel vehicle!
And so that is how he is spending his retirement time, driving an 18-wheeler hauling farm produce in the Southern United States and earning a living.
He told his classmate and brother Kenneth that he (Captain Page) is not financially well off, though he had worked all those years as a pilot, most especially because he could not get his money out of the country in which he served the longest as a pilot, Nigeria—for 11 and a half years. Born in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, Prince is still fluent in his native tongue, Bassa.
He is anxious to return home and help improve Aviation among his fellow Liberians, and train Liberian military pilots.