AIR AMERICA by Christopher Robbins


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The story of one arm of the CIA's clandestine airline companies, a conglomerate that just grew and grew over a 30-year period until it was larger than any commercial airline. Beginning in China as Chennault's Flying Tigers (prospective pilots were told ""You'll be agents for the Chinese government""), the originals of Air America also inspired Milton Caniff's shady outfit Air Expendable in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates. As time went by, the AA complex became the CIA's Far East operation, Southern Air Transport. Founded in 1949, it was incorporated in Delaware as Air America, and included Civil Air Transport, Intermountain, Air Asia, and a web of dozens of CIA airlines covering (primarily) Southeast Asia. The company made money, sometimes $50 million a year, and it paid its hard-flying pilots very well indeed while insuring them through a private CIA insurance company. Nearly all the pilots were battle-hardened, but the chopper pilots who were with the Army military in Korea and Vietnam and accustomed to short hops in hell and back out-earned the fixed wing pilots from World War II. (All were being paid by number of hops, and a chopper can do a lot of hopping.) Further, the new breed of pilots did not cotton to flagwaving; these gents were there for the money and to get out alive was the highest priority. They fly secret missions in Indonesia, Tibet, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia; help out Laotian generals by hauling their opium; and rise to great heights of heroism during the evacuation of Saigon. The CIA's air arm today is in such deep cover that Robbins suggests we'll never know what they're doing. The adventures of some hard-drinking Americans ripping up Asia for fun and profit, when ""war took the place of television.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1979
Publisher: Putnam