A truly ‘Special Person’…
“Everything I have achieved I owe it to God, and I owe it to myself to share my knowledge for the benefit of this great country.”
By Neil Marks
When he was just nine years old, Charles Hutson looked across the Essequibo River and saw an amphibian aircraft land in the water.
That was 1949. And there and then, even though it was the first time he was seeing any type of aircraft, Huston determined that he had to figure out how the “thing” worked. Just how could this thing be in the air and fly like a bird?
Over the years, Huston’s insatiable appetite for knowledge led him into a career of airplane design and technology, something he accomplished too by sheer determination against seemingly insurmountable odds – odds, not only for himself, but odds that faced, and still face, a nation.
THE EARLY YEARS
Huston was born on Great Troolie Island in the Essequibo River, three miles east of the mainland Essequibo Coast. He was born into a Scottish Presbyterian family; his father, James, was an elder in the local church.
Life on the island was far from simplistic. The farming community provided Huston with a solid combination of life skills – hard work, respect for others and an enduring sense of generosity.
The family was into farming and cattle rearing and owned a small timber company. Cattle and vegetables were never sold; the excess was distributed to the communities whenever there was a slaughter or a harvest.
In the community school, Hutson proved himself an ardent student, and his zest for reading led him to examine the lives of great philosophers and composers such as Mozart, and he acquired knowledge of various subjects.
Something else that helped to shape his young mind and satisfy his thirst for knowledge was the Broadcast To School’s programme by the local radio station. The class would gather around a small Phillips’ plastic radio which worked with “torchlight batteries” to listen to the programmes. Huston admired announcers such as A.J. Seymour for his elocution of the English language.
Huston’s promise of becoming an exceptional Guyanese shone in school. He “skipped” one class, because he was “a little bright” and at age 15, he wrote the School Leavers’ Exam.
When the Regional Development Committee came looking for young men who were interested in the trades, Hutson enlisted and was granted a place at the Government Technical Institute. That meant he had to leave Troolie Island for the city, Georgetown, a place he didn’t quite understand.
With his intense curiosity for engines, Hutson’s choice of study would be Motor Vehicle Technology and while he received a good education, he also benefitted from the selfless dedication of teachers such as Compton Pooran.
He remembers well the admonition that “he who asks a question is a fool for five minutes, but he who fails to ask a question is a fool forever.”
In 1958, he received a trade certificate from the Government Technical Institute, and the following year, he earned a certificate in Motor Vehicle Technology from City and Guilds of London.
He was aiming for the Ordinary National Certificate Overseas, which was offered by the very Institute, but this goal was marred by the quagmire of politics in what was then British Guiana.
This is not to say that Huston was not fascinated by the politics of the day and the movement towards independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He took every opportunity to attend public meetings by the stars of the political scene at the time – Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan.
Even when Burnham and Jagan broke ranks and championed different political movements, Hutson still followed them. He was simply in love with the debates, unaware that the battles of these two political heroes would lead to an infamous legacy of racially polarized politics that continues to this day.
He was perhaps naïve to the reality of the day. His upbringing did not allow him to think derogatively of someone of another ethnicity. But reality would soon set in, when the riots of the early 60s struck.
By then, he had married Claudette, a spritely young woman he met while taking a leisurely bicycle ride in the city near the Metropole cinema on what is now Robb Street. They married in 1961 after a courtship that lasted two and a half years.
They were living on Camp Street and Claudette was going to Smyth Street. She was of mixed ethnicity, but because of her long hair, she might have been mistaken for a fair-skinned East Indian woman, and became the prime target of a bicycle gang infused by the race hate.
Fortunately, Claudette put up a defence against her attackers and she was not harmed. Caught up in the events of the day, the life of the country became stagnated. The violence of the early 60s left an estimated 160 persons dead and 1000 homes destroyed.
During this time, after a string of internships, Hutson found an opportunity at British Guiana Airways, which was offering scholarships in aircraft engineering.
No sooner had Hutson applied than the scholarship programme was halted. However, his application impressed the government administrators of the Airways and he was called in for an interview.
Sure enough, he was taken in and since the scholarship programme was stopped, he was placed in the internal training programme and moved from workshop to workshop, observing specialist craftsmen, “artisans”, whom he admired for their ability to fabricate anything for an aircraft.
Due to the politics of the day, unless you were fair-skinned and were recommended by the very “closed” engineering fraternity, there was no way he could pass an internal examination and was constantly failed – by one mark, a mark and a half, two marks. “They had their kings and queens already,” he laughed.
Hutson began studying the manuals himself and took the exams offered by the Air Registration Board of the UK and gained his first Aircraft Maintenance Engineering License in 1969.
Later, he was posted to Timehri, where he worked on the Douglas DC-3 aircraft which was used to carry passengers into the interior and bring out cargo from places such as Kato and Karanambo.
He was in love with the engineering design of the aircraft. With 1000 Horsepower, the DC-3 was an American fixed-wing, propeller driven aircraft which changed the image of transport aircraft in the 1930s and 40s and was used successfully in World War II.
When Suriname moved to occupy the New River Triangle and set up camp and develop an airstrip in the disputed territory, the government moved to acquire the highly maneuverable and versatile DeHavilland Twin Otter (DHC-6) aircraft.
Again, Hutson worked on these, ensuring that the aircraft were in top shape for combating the Surinamese soldiers, who retreated across the border.
The government subsequently set up Camp Jaguar at New River to avoid future incursions by Suriname.
The DHC-6 was also used to fly policemen and soldiers to the interior area of Manari to quell the uprising at Lethem in 1969, which saw cattle ranchers attack Lethem.
Hutson had the opportunity to study the Twin Otter and DHC-4 Caribou (a Canadian-designed and produced specialised cargo aircraft) in Canada, and he also studied islander aircraft in the United Kingdom. Art Williams and Harry Wendt Aeronautical Engineering School. The school was named after the founders of British Guiana Airways.
When he returned to Guyana, in 1975, he was assigned Station Manager at Ogle since Guyana Airways was developing a service to Bartica and other interior locations.
Just about this time, the government decided it wanted to develop the capability of the Guyana Defence Force and wanted to acquire helicopters. Huston was asked to study helicopter theory and maintenance in France for a year.
He thereafter became the first of two Guyanese engineers to be granted a Multi Category Rating on all fixed wing aircraft and small and medium helicopters powered by turbo shaft engines.
The Guyana Defence Force then started to look at Guyana Airways for specialists to help it develop a fully functioning Air Corps and in 1976 Hutson was granted the rank of Major and Officer Commanding for the Engineering Division and Second in Command of the Air Corps.
When the Force moved to acquire the Bell 412 and 206 helicopters in the mid 70s, Hutson spent considerable time in Texas, U.S.A. studying these craft. He was thereafter granted the full set of aeronautical engineering licenses and set about developing the Air Corps of the country’s military.
Hutson is proud to see that those who joined the Air Corps have moved on to top positions in the developed world and he is firm in his position that Guyana produced the best brains in the Caribbean and he refuses to acknowledge those who might pass this off as an idle boast.
In 1988, with the Air Corps up and running, Hutson returned to Guyana Airways, but left shortly thereafter to work with the small aircraft companies at Ogle. He was given the rank of Lieutenant Colonel when he left the Army.
He joined Trans Guyana Airways as Assistant Manager and Chief Engineer.
At one point, he helped to save the aviation industry in Guyana from total collapse. As the local aviation industry was losing its skilled workers, the Civil Aviation Authority of the UK, which was still regulating the local industry, threatened to ground all internal flights.
When the Air Worthiness Surveyor warned that something needed to be done to train and develop people for the industry, Hutson and other pioneers of the aviation industry started to put the bits together and formed what is today the
It is approved and certified by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and trains suitably qualified persons to become Aircraft Maintenance Engineers.
The school is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean and currently accepts students from outside of Guyana.
Hutson has worked in the Bahamas and with the now defunct Caribbean Star airlines. Currently, he is at home enjoying the pleasures of being a grandfather, but says if work comes along he will take it up.
Hutson says his outlook on life has never been to be possessive of the knowledge he has benefitted from over the years and in fact he saw it as morally wrong to leave Guyana with all that the country has given him. “Everything I have achieved I owe it to God, and I owe it to myself to share my knowledge for the benefit of this great country.”
As a stalwart in aeronautical engineering, Hutson hopes one day retire on Troolie Island from where he saw his first aircraft and from where his determination to pursue engineering was born.
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