An airline was founded in the U.S.A. in 1946, under the name
"Air America". At first sight, it was an entirely ordinary
event, as private air transport had been practiced for a long
time in this country, and so the appearance of yet another airline
However, this new company actually belonged to the Central Intelligence
Agency, with the primary purpose of reconnaissance activity beyond
its own borders, which is why Air America's activities in that
period were always concerned with out of the ordinary air transportation.
The headquarters of the airline were in Washington, D.C., but
this was an elaborate and fictitious front, as in a democratic
society like this the politicians strictly supervised the activities
of the C.I.A. and other such agencies. The primary purpose of
Air America on its foundation, and in future, was to support the
covert operations of the C.I.A. in the planet's "hot spots".
One of the hottest spots at that time appeared to be South-East
Asia. Only recently the war in Korea had split the country into
two parts, and following on from that the tensest situation was
in Vietnam, where the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union vied to turn
the conflict to their advantage, and ignored no potential way
of achieving their purpose.
At the end of the 1950's the Air America fleet consisted of forty,
fifty aircraft or more and was very mixed: pilots flew a variety
of types, beginning with small Beechcrafts and then twin engine
C-123 Provider transports. They mainly operated out of bases in
Thailand, and also in Taiwan and Japan. The main flight destinations
were not only Vietnam; there were also permanent routes to Laos,
Cambodia, Burma, and China.
The missions of Air America flights were extremely varied. Sometimes
they took military specialists to dangerous flashpoints, in other
cases airplanes delivered cargoes to supply the needs of pro-American
factions. Quite often these loads were simply ordinary weapons.
The "passengers" of the airline were specialists in
blasting work, military doctors, diplomats, and sometimes even
V.I.P's, for example future President of the U.S.A. Richard Nixon.
Later the airplanes of Air America were sometimes engaged in "dirty
work" such as the spraying of Agent Orange defoliant over
But one of the murkiest episodes in the history of Air America
involved their participation in drug smuggling. The countries
over which the pilots flew contained the so-called "Golden
Triangle" - the world's major center of opium production.
Not only the leaders of pro-American puppet governments in some
Asian countries but also certain Air America executives were actively
involved in this lethal business, so it was not surprising that
pilots were sometimes required to undertake missions illegal according
to their Air America contract.
In due course one such illicit transaction was broken open in
the media, provoking a great scandal, however the authority of
the C.I.A. was so considerable, that the incident was afterwards
suppressed in the news. Thirty years later, the story of contraband
goods and drugs trafficked by Air America was featured in the
very successful Hollywood film of the same name starring Mel Gibson.
In 1976 Air America was disbanded and closed down.
On the whole during the active life of Air America around thirty
different types of airplanes and helicopters were used. In time,
the fleet grew to a few hundred, and the variety of tasks determined
the choice of the airline's different types. The best medium transport
machines were the C-123 Provider and the C-119 Boxcar, but they
executed missions only where landing strips were suitably prepared.
At the same time, there was a need for airplanes capable of repeated
take offs and landings in small areas such as jungle clearings,
and these airplanes at least had to have strengthened undercarriages,
because perfect airfields simply did not exist in this region.
One aircraft ideally suited for such work was the Pilatus PC-6
Turbo Porter. This machine was developed in Switzerland at the
end of the 1950's and promised to be very successful, and afterwards
the American aircraft builder Fairchild purchased a license for
the production of the PC-6. American production machines were
passed on to Air America, as were others purchased in Switzerland.
The PC-6 appeared to be the ideal candidate for operations in
these areas: it only needed a tiny space to take off in, and landing
distances were also very short due to carefully designed wing
flaps. The capacity of the cargo cabin was good for a single-engine
airplane; and the strong construction of the undercarriage minimized
the likelihood of destruction of the airplane in the event of
a hard landing. The PC-6 was flown more frequently than other
single-engine types in the Air America inventory, and an average
hour in the air was amongst the highest.
During the production of the film "Air America", the
film company endeavored to portray the spirit of the real events
as much as possible, and used in filming the same types which
had flown for the airline. A C-123 Provider was supplied for shooting
by private owners, and the role of the PC-6 was played by the
AU-23 Peacemaker of the Royal Air Forces of Thailand, which had
been exported previously to that country by the U.S.A. They played
the role of their historical predecessors perfectly, and some
standout scenes, for example dangerous landings in difficult jungle
conditions, let the audience witness the very real capabilities
of this wonderful and extraordinarily elegant airplane.