The CIA's Airlines: Logistic Air Support of the War in Laos 1954 to 1975

by Martin Best

Geography of Laos
War in Laos
The Fall of Saigon
Civil Air Transport Co. Ltd. (CAT)
Air America, Inc.
Arizona Helicopters, Inc.
Bird & Sons, Inc. (Bird Air)
Continental Air Services, Inc. (CASI)
Outstanding Questions

Appendix 1: Abbreviations
Appendix 2: Bibliography
Appendix 3: Chronology

Aircraft Listings
Civil Air Transport
Air America

Arizona Helicopters

Bird and Son and Continental Air Services (CASI)


The war in Laos has often been called a “secret war”. This is certainly a fair description in comparison with media coverage of the neighbouring war in Vietnam but in recent years a number of books and a controversial film have helped to throw some light on this war and the role of US airlines in providing communications and logistical air support to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) forces in Laos. None of these books, with one small exception, have defined the fleet lists of these airlines even though, in terms of aircraft numbers, their fleet sizes were comparable with those of the largest airlines in the world at that time. 

The objective of this article is to attempt to compile the fleet lists of the principal airlines responsible for providing this logistical air support in Southeast Asia. First, however, it is necessary to describe the geopolitical context of the war in Laos as this explains the roles of these airlines and the covert nature of their operations. As the space available in Digest does not allow an in-depth description, a comprehensive bibliography is included.

Geography of Laos

Laos is a landlocked country the shape of Italy in the north-central region of mainland Southeast Asia. Six populous neighbours surround it: China to the north, North Vietnam to the northeast, South Vietnam to the southeast, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and Burma (Myanmar) to the northwest. The total land area of Laos is some 91,400 square miles, or roughly the size of Great Britain. The northern half of the country is covered in dense tropical rain forest, mountains that rise to over 7000 feet and slate-black limestone karsts. In the northeast, the mountains give way to the Plaines des Jarres (PDJ), a diamond-shaped patch of dairy land covered with giant stone burial urns dating back thousands of years.

The southern half of the country runs in a narrow panhandle, which empties onto the Bolovens Plateau. Down the eastern edge of the panhandle are the Annamite Corilleras, a towering mountain range that covers most of the 1323 mile border with Vietnam. On the western edge is the Mekong River, which forms a common border with Thailand, but there are also two Lao provinces on the western side of this big river.

Laos was divided into five Military Regions (MR). MR I was in the northwest, including Luang Prabang and the borders with Burma and China; MR II was in the northeast, including Long Tieng, Sam Neua and Sam Thong; MR III consisted of the central panhandle region, including Savannakhet and much of the Ho Chi Minh trail. MR IV was in the south, including Pakse and the Bolovens Plateau; finally MR V consisted of the neutral zone around Vientiane.

The climate of Laos roughly divides the year in half. Beginning in late May are five months of heavy tropical rains. Five more months, beginning in December, have high temperatures and little rain. A short spring and autumn connect these rainy and dry seasons.

When compared to South Vietnam, Laos was a more dangerous place in which to fly. Apart from enemy ground fire there were other problems to contend with. The maps of Laos during the early days were very inaccurate and pilots had to read the ground, watching for landmarks below them to ensure that they did not get lost. Apart from the monsoon season, Laos also had a man-made season when the villagers set fire to their fields in preparation for the year's planting. The whole country became enveloped in a blue smog that reduced visibility to half a mile or less.

During the Second Indo-China War, approximately three million people populated Laos. Of these, nearly half were lowland Laotians from the Tai linguistic group that migrated from southern China beginning in the 13th century. The vast majority of these lowlanders are peasant farmers and Buddhists.

Living along the mountain slopes are the diverse Lao Theung, which account for up to 30% of the total population. Descended from the Mon-Khmer ethnic group, the darker Lao Theung have historically been discriminated against by the lowland Laotians. The Lao Theung is fragmented into dozens of tribes that speak mutually unintelligible dialects.

On the mountain tops live the Sino-Tibetan hill tribes, comprising 20% of the population. The most important of these tribes are the Hmong (Meo) and the Mien (Yao). The Hmong, in particular, are renowned as among the fiercest warriors in Southeast Asia.

The geography of Laos is well described in Tragedy in Paradise, which also describes the USAID public health programme from 1963 to 1974.

War in Laos

Towards the end of World War II, US foreign policy was against the idea of the European powers regaining control of their colonial territories in Southeast Asia after the defeat of Japan. With the start of the Cold War and Korean War, however, it was recognised that the vacuum created by this policy was likely to result in communist domination of these territories, so the American government provided material support to the French government in their war in Indo-China, notably against the communist Viet Mihn. Despite this support, which included Civil Air Transport (CAT) crews flying Fairchild C-119C transports on behalf of the French, the French forces were comprehensively defeated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. This war resulted in the resignation of the French government and the calling of a peace conference in Geneva, which resulted in the signing of a Peace Treaty in July 1954. This treaty defined the Kingdom of Laos as a neutral territory and all foreign forces were required to be withdrawn. An International Control Commission (ICC), comprising observers from India, Poland and Canada, was established under the terms of the Geneva Accords.

The political scene in Laos could generally be divided into three camps: the communists, including Prince Souphanouvong, Kaysone Phomvihane, the Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese masters; the pro-Western forces including Prince Boun Oum, Phoui Sananikone, General Phoumi Nosavan and the Hmong guerrillas and militia led by General Vang Pao (VP); and the neutralists, which included Prince Souvanna Phouma, Kong Le, and theoretically the Royal Lao Government (RLG). At various times after peace talks three coalition governments were formed but these rarely lasted very long before fighting broke out between rival generals' forces or there was a coup. Fighting between factions within the royalist forces (FAR) diverted the troops from defending the country from attack by the neutralist (FAN), Pathet Lao (PL) and People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) forces. Officers on the losing side of a coup would often be imprisoned. The history of the war in Laos is summarised in the Chronology.

After the signing of this first Peace Treaty the US military advisors were withdrawn but a Programs Evaluation Office (PEO) was established in the US Embassy in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It soon became apparent that although all the Western forces had withdrawn the terms of the treaty were not being honoured by North Vietnam in their support of communist Pathet Lao forces. Although direct intervention by US forces was contemplated this was vetoed following the ‘Bay of Pigs' debacle in Cuba and from that point on US military support of the Lao neutralist government was covert, administered by the CIA but under the direction of the US Ambassador to Laos.

The CIA's presence in Laos grew steadily from the early 1960s, but it still remained small. The total number of people connected with the war, both in Laos and in Thailand, never exceeded 225. This included some 50 case officers with Hmong, Lao, and Thai units.

Unlike the North Vietnamese, the Lao are peace-loving people and the Royalist and Pathet Lao forces were militarily less than effective. The Americans soon learned to rely on the hilltribes to fight the invading PAVN in much the same way as the French had in Indochina. These forces used guerrilla tactics to oppose the conventional PAVN forces in a mirror image of the Vietcong's war in South Vietnam. Conventional but mercenary forces recruited in Thailand and paid for by the US government supported these Groupement Mobiles (GM). Thai Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (PARU) and CIA advisors were appointed to advise the Lao and hilltribe forces in the various MRs in Laos. The indigenous Hmong guerrilla and militia forces were intent on defending their homeland from their traditional enemy, the North Vietnamese, regardless of US policies or the support of the CIA. The use of the hilltribe forces to fight conventional battles, however, led to the decimation of these untrained and poorly equipped forces and it became necessary to use the Thai mercenary forces to fight set-piece battles against the PAVN.

The early years of the war took on a seasonal pattern. During the dry season the PAVN and PL went on the offensive, applying pressure on the Hmong in northern Laos and on RLG forces throughout the country. During the monsoon season the anti-communists took advantage of the mobility provided by Air America and struck deep into enemy-occupied territory. The character of the war began to change in 1968. The North Vietnamese, impatient with the progress of the PL, introduced major new combat forces into Laos and took control of the year's dry season offensive.

The Pathet Lao and PAVN forces would progressively invade the villages occupied by the hilltribe and Lao populations who would then be displaced as refugees. USAID would then try to resettle the displaced village populations in safer areas where they could plant new crops and build a short landing strip or drop zone for the supply of food until new crops could be harvested. The use of the majority of the male population of the Hmong hill tribes to fight the PL and PAVN meant that there were few able-bodied males left in the villages to provide food for the families. Food was supplied by air using the CIA and USAID's contractors: Arizona Helicopters Inc.; Bird & Sons Inc., which later became Continental Air Services Inc. (CASI), and Air America Inc. (AAM), formed out of Civil Air Transport (CAT) following the death of Major General Claire Chennault, of “Flying Tigers” fame. These US airlines used STOL aircraft to get in and out of small landing sites (LS) in remote area, as well as conventional military transports and numerous helicopters to provide air mobility and supply.

The US airlines were generally only required to provide communications and logistical support. US military personnel usually worked as military advisors but one exception was the provision of Forward Air Controllers (FACs), who flew Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, O-2 Super Skymaster and U-17 spotter planes to mark enemy targets for attack my Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF) T-28 or USAF fighter-bombers based in Thailand or South Vietnam. These FAC pilots were known as “Ravens” after their radio call sign. Most of the Ravens worked out of Long Tieng, but a few were also stationed in Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Savannakhet, and Pakse. US military personnel transferred to Laos were “sheep dipped” out of the services and employed as civilians assigned to USAID Laos.

The principal logistical base for CIA operations in Laos was at Udorn (aka Udon Thani) in northeast Thailand, across the Mekong River from Laos and Vientiane, but the day-to-day campaign was directed from the US Embassy in Vientiane. Advisors to GM in the various MRs would generally return to Vientiane to debrief each evening and return to the field in the morning with new orders and supplies using air transport provided by the CIA's airlines. The security situation generally did not allow the aircraft or advisors to remain in the field overnight (RON). The headquarters of the USAID Laos operation was in Vientiane with contractors' aircraft being based at Vientiane's Wattay airport (Lima 08), which had runway and control facilities provided by USAID. A USAID civilian hospital was built at Sam Thong (LS20), about 5 km from Long Tieng (LS20A), to care for the refugee population in that area, as well as military casualties that could not be treated at Long Tieng.

USAID Laos responsibilities included the development of agriculture, education, public health, and construction projects, in cooperation with the RLG. The CIA was responsible for military aid within the US mission, which also included representatives of the USIS.

The aircraft used by these two airlines were often interchanged, complicating the definition of fleet lists. Aircraft were also “loaned” to the airlines by the US armed forces, devoid of national markings, where overt military support was not politically acceptable. In these circumstances it is difficult to identify which US military aircraft were operated by the US airlines and generally these loans are not recorded in aircraft production lists.

The roles of the US airlines supporting CIA and USAID operations in Laos included: aircraft maintenance and repair; casualty evacuation; communication flights; evacuation and relocation of refugees; insertion, re-supply and extraction of road watch teams and patrols; photo-reconnaissance; psychological warfare; recovery of damaged aircraft; search and rescue; supply of food (“soft rice”) and weapons & ammunition (“hard rice”); surveillance, including signals intelligence and the monitoring of ground sensors; and troop transport.

Communication flights included the regular CASI ‘milk run' from Bangkok to Udorn and Vientiane using C-47 aircraft. The American mission also had two ‘milk run' flights each day from Vientiane to Northern and Southern Laos. The aircraft were Air America C-47s or occasionally C-46s. Heading north they landed at Luang Prabang, Sayaboury and Ban Houai Sai. Going south they stopped at Savannakhet, Pakse, and Attopeu. On the return trips they made the same stops. STOL Helio Courier aircraft were used at the smaller landing strips but these were later replaced by Pilatus Porter aircraft, with DHC Caribou STOL transports handling larger loads to the longer strips. C-46 and C-123B transports were used to drop commodities such as food and ammunition. Helicopters used included the piston Sikorsky H-34 and turbine Bell JetRanger.

There were few roads in the country, and none of them were usable except in the immediate vicinity of the larger towns along the Mekong River. In most areas, roads were non-existent. Where they did exist, lack of maintenance and poor security often precluded their use – particularly in the hinterland, where most of the fighting and displacement of the civil population occurred. A road was eventually built between Vientiane and Long Tieng.

During the periods when there was a moratorium on the Rolling Thunder bombing of North Vietnam, extra resources were available to bomb Laos instead. The second Indochina War left Laos with the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country per capita in the history of warfare.

Strategically the war in Laos was seen as a way of diverting PAVN divisions from the Vietnam War without the commitment of significant US forces. With the withdrawal of US forces from South Vietnam, following the Paris Peace Treaty, signed in January 1973, the neutrality of Laos was reconfirmed and the CIA's support for the Lao government was also withdrawn. Once again, the Pathet Lao was invited to join a coalition government. Although the ICC attempted to monitor the withdrawal of foreign forces from Laos the PAVN continued the occupation of Laos, resulting in “ethnic cleansing” of the Hmong hill tribe populations; survivors still populate refugee camps in Northeast Thailand.

The war in Laos has been described in much greater detail in War in Laos 1954-1975, by Kenneth Conboy, The Ravens, by Christopher Robbins, and Covert Ops, by James E Parker. Details of these and other sources are given in the Bibliography.

The Fall of Saigon

Operation FREQUENT WIND was the evacuation of Saigon as the PAVN advanced towards the city in April 1975. Air America responded to the call and initiated the largest aerial evacuation in history. The unsung heroes of the airlift were the Air America Bell UH-1 crews, who put in sterling work ferrying evacuees from around the city to either the US embassy or the Defense Attaché's Office compound. They were transporting people out to sea to awaiting aircraft carriers, refuelling on the carriers, and returning to a disintegrating Saigon.

In the period from 6 April 1975 to 30 April 1975, a total of 51,888 people were flown out of Saigon. Of these, 45,125 (87%) were flown out by Air America. On 29 and 30 April alone, 7,014 were flown out, with 5,595 (80%) evacuated by Air America. Several helicopters were lost during the evacuation due to enemy fire.

Civil Air Transport Co. Ltd. (CAT)

There is an excellent essay on the formation and history of CAT in Air-Britain's Curtiss C-46 Commando monograph (pp. 28 – 30); Perilous Missions, by William Leary, describes these in greater detail. The latter includes an Equipment List for February 1954 that has been taken into account in the preparation of the fleet list at Table 2.

During the Korean War, CAT made more than 100 hazardous over-flights of mainland China, airdropping agents and supplies. These flights included Operation PAPER in support of Li Mi's KMT forces in the Shan provinces of northeast Burma that were used for two unsuccessful invasions of southwest China in an attempt to divert Chinese forces from Korea. Later CAT was used to repatriate these KMT forces and their families to Taiwan after they had become an embarrassment to the governments of Burma and Thailand. Operation BOOKLIFT was CAT's contract with the USAF for the airlift of men and supplies between designated points throughout the Far East.

CAT is significant in this story because it was used to support the French armed forces during the First Indo-Chinese War during 1953 and 1954, when the US Government did not wish to commit US forces overtly. Operation SQUAW began on 6 May 1953 and continued until 16 July, using six USAF C-119 aircraft repainted in French Air Force colours and based at Gia Lam airbase, outside Hanoi.  CAT returned to Indochina in 1954 with twelve C-119s and 24 pilots to support the French forces at Dien Bien Phu. Between 13 March and the fall of Dien Bien Phu on 7 May, CAT pilots flew 682 airdrop missions to the beleaguered French troops under Operation SQUAW II.

CAT operations continued in Indochina after the fall of Dien Bien Phu. Between mid-May and mid-August, C-119s dropped supplies to isolated French outposts and delivered loads throughout the country. CAT also supplied twelve C-46s for Operation COGNAC, the evacuation of civilians from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, following the signing of the Geneva Agreement on 21 July 1954. Between 22 August and 4 October they flew 19,808 men, women and children out of North Vietnam.

Tables 1 and 2 only show the aircraft operated by Civil Air Transport Co. Ltd. of Taiwan, most of whose aircraft were registered in Taiwan. This list therefore excludes the XT-registered aircraft that were operated in Mainland China from 1946 and also the aircraft taken over from CATC and CNAC by CATI that had been abandoned in Hong Kong and were then registered in America. CAT provided the basis of Air America's initial fleet.

The United States had been supplying economic and military aid to Laos under an agreement signed in 1950. Following the Geneva Conference of 1954, Washington decided to expand this programme and in January 1955, it established the United States Operations Mission (USOM) in Vientiane to administer economic assistance. A PEO was later set up within USOM to handle military aid. CAT soon became involved in USOM's aid programme.

In July 1955, USOM officials learned that a rice failure threatened famine in several provinces in Laos. Because a number of these areas were in remote, mountainous regions, airdrops were the only feasible means to deliver essential supplies of rice and salt. Three CAT C-46s arrived at the railhead at Udorn, in northeast Thailand, on 11 September to begin the airlift. By the end of the month, CAT had flown more than 200 missions to 25 reception areas, delivering 1,000 tons of emergency food.

CAT's permanent presence in Laos commenced on 1 July 1957 when a C-47 was brought to Vientiane to service a new contract with the US Embassy. Between 1957 and 1959, the unstable political situation in Laos led to growing American presence in the country as the United States increased its support of the FAR. It was this situation in Laos, not Vietnam, which led to the “domino theory” in Southeast Asia. If Laos fell to the communists then the rest of Southeast Asia was expected to follow.

Air America, Inc.

Air America, Inc. was reportedly formed in July 1950 as a 100%-owned subsidiary of the Pacific Corporation and undertook worldwide charter and contract operations primarily in the Far East. Air America operated supply-dropping missions in Laos under contract to the USAID.

Air America was owned by the CIA and played a leading role in logistic air support of the CIA's forces in Laos from 1959 to 1974. When the US wars in Southeast Asia were over, Air America's surviving aircraft were sold and the company was liquidated. Money ($20 million) raised from the sale of aircraft, e.g. via Omni Aircraft Sales Inc., was returned to the US Treasury.

Christopher Robbins has written a history of Air America in Air America: the story of the CIA's secret airlines. This book is not limited to just the history of Air America; its full title is a more accurate description as the book also considers CAT, Bird Air and CASI. It reports that the owners of Air America had very little knowledge of its fleet size or composition. Some excellent pictures of many of Air America's aircraft, plus others with CAT, Bird Air and CASI are included in Terry Love's Wings of Air America: a photo history.

During the war, Air America flew throughout South Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, but their main operations were in Laos. Air America provided air support for American objectives in Laos, mainly through USAID. Their main objective was logistical. They supplied General Vang Pao's 45,000-man army in MR II. Probably the biggest part of Air America's mission was support of refugee supply, movement and resettlement. Because no US military planes were permitted to be based inside Laos, Air America came to play an essential role with its helicopters, transports and STOL aircraft. Air America provided the only Air Rescue Service in the area during the early 1960s.

The formal Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, signed on 23 July 1962, provided for a coalition government and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country by 7 October. The United States pulled out its 666 military advisers and support staff, and Air America stopped dropping weapons to the Hmong. Air America's operations declined sharply in 1963. Restricted to food supply to the Hmong, which averaged 40 tons a month by the summer, the airline laid off people and mothballed aircraft. By May 1963, the number of UH-34s assigned to Udorn had dropped from 18 to 6. Flight hours, which had averaged 2,000 per month before the Geneva Accords, dropped to 600.

By 1966 Air America had almost 6,000 employees. At its peak in 1970, Air America had the largest airline fleet in the world, in terms of numbers of aircraft owned, although a lot of these aircraft were small or helicopters. Air America operated up to 30,000 flights per month by 1970. By the summer of 1970 the airline had some two dozen twin-engine transports, another two dozen STOL aircraft, and some 30 helicopters dedicated to operations in Laos. During 1970, Air America airdropped or landed over 20,000 tons of foodstuffs (mainly rice) in Laos and helicopter flight time reached more than 4,000 hours a month.

In Vietnam, Air America served about 12,000 passengers monthly. These included USAID people, missionaries, military personnel, correspondents, government officials and nurses. Up to 40 aircraft were based in Vietnam.

Air America men were among the last to leave when Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam collapsed. Many Air America aircraft were shot down and lost. 243 men were killed in action while working with Air America; 100 AAM personnel died in Laos, including 23 crewmembers that died in flight operations. Eleven AAM crewmembers were lost in the three years 1965, 1966 and 1967, of which five were due to enemy action. Between December 1971 and April 1972, six AAM crewmembers died in Laos. In December alone, 24 aircraft were hit by ground fire and three were shot down.

Tables 3 and 4 are an initial attempt to establish Air America's fleet size and composition. The annual World Airline Surveys by Flight International (Table 3) give an indication of fleet composition and size, and Table 4, which has been compiled from numerous sources and production lists, gives the identity of many of these aircraft.

Arizona Helicopters, Inc.

Arizona Helicopters, a smaller helicopter contractor, operated in Laos in the early 1970s. For a fleet list please see Table 7.

Bird & Sons, Inc. (Bird Air)

Little has been written about Bird Air. It escaped coverage in the annual World Airlines Surveys by Flight International and Ron Davies's excellent books: The World's Airlines and Airlines of Asia. The following description is taken from the C-46 monograph:

“Bird and Sons was a proprietary company of the US Central Intelligence Agency, operating a variety of aircraft, mainly light types, in South-East Asia. A number of C-46s were operated on quasi-military operations in 1964 and 1965.”

In fact Bird & Sons, Inc, a private airline run by William H Bird, was the aviation division of A Bird and Sons, the San Francisco heavy construction company operating in Vietnam and Laos.

The aviation division of Bird and Sons, Inc., including 22 aircraft and 350 employees, was bought by Continental Airlines for $4.5 million cash in 1965 and commenced operations as the South-East Asia Division in September, 1965.

Given this transfer of aircraft the fleet lists of Bird & Sons and CASI are combined in Tables 5 and 6. Some aircraft continued to be registered to Bird & Sons Inc. after the take-over.

Continental Air Services, Inc.

Continental Air Services, Inc. (CASI) was formed in April 1965 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Continental Air Lines Inc. to operate aircraft and ground facilities in support of oil exploration, construction and engineering projects, USAID and other US Government Agencies, e.g. the CIA. In August 1965 the company took over much of the aviation division of Bird and Sons in Laos and Vietnam, with headquarters in Vientiane.

Aircraft were interchanged between the fleets of Air America and CASI, perhaps without any change of ownership, thus adding a further complication to the compiling of fleet lists. Many aircraft owned by Bird & Sons were registered in Laos (on the XW- register) and some of the survivors were later transferred to the US register under CASI ownership many years after the take-over. With the fall of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, operations were terminated and the surviving aircraft were sold, as shown in Table 6.

Outstanding Questions

This article has attempted to compile the fleet lists of the principal US airlines operating in and around Laos during the first and second Indo-Chinese wars (1954-1975). Although these fleet lists are considerably longer than information published in Aviation Letter during 1968, for example, there are still significant gaps when the lists are compared with reported inventories of these airlines. For example, only three of ten Beech Barons operated by CASI have been identified to date. 

Readers are encouraged to check their own records and report any additions or corrections to the author or the editor. For example, as copies of the USCAR consulted were published at intervals of four years, further information of interest my be available in intermediate publications, e.g. the civil registrations of Air America's C-123s, operated in about 1966.


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of: Judy Porter (General Secretary, Air America Association, photographs); Len Lundh (S-58 spreadsheet & photographs); Stephen Darke (Beech 18 & Baron information & photographs); Terry Love (permission to use copyright information and clarification of details in Wings of Air America); and Wayne Buser (Caribou spreadsheet). Other assistance is reflected in the Bibliography.


Appendix 1: Abbreviations

AAA                Air America Association

AAM               Air America, Inc.

AB-IX             Air-Britain Information Exchange (web site and mailing list)

AFB                 Air Force Base

aka                   also known as

AL                   Aviation Letter

AMCAR          American Civil Air Registers quarterly review

BOA                Boun Oum Airways

CAB                Civil Aeronautics Board

Canx.               Cancelled

CASI               Continental Air Services, Inc.

CAT                CNRRA Air Transport > Civil Air Transport

CATC             Central Air Transport Corp.

CATI               Civil Air Transport, Inc.

CIA                 Central Intelligence Agency

CIC                 Commission International d'Control (see also ICC)

c/n                   construction number

CNAC            China National Aviation Corp.

CNRRA           Chinese National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration

DBR                 Damaged Beyond Repair

DOD                Department of Defense

FAA                Federal Aviation Agency

FAC                Forward Air Controller

FAN                Force Armée Neutraliste (Neutralist Armed Forces)

FAR                Forces Armée du Royaume (Royal Armed Forces)

GM                 Groupement Mobile

ICC                 International Control Commission

ID                    Identity

KMT                Kuomintang (Nationalist Chinese)

LAC                 Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

LS                    Lima Site (Landing Site in Laos)

MR                  Military Region

MSB                Martin S Best (author's files)

NLR                No Longer Registered

OWAD            The Observer's World Aircraft Directory

PA&E              Pacific Architects and Engineers, Inc.

PARU              Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (Thai)

PAVN             People's Army of Vietnam

PDJ                  Plaine des Jarres (Plain of Jars)

PEO                 Programs Evaluation Office

PL                    Pathet Lao

q.v.                  quod vide (= which see)

reg.                  registration

rgd.                  registered

RLAF              Royal Lao Air Force

RLG                 Royal Lao Government

RON                Remain Overnight

r/r                     re-registered

RTAFB            Royal Thai Air Force Base

RVN                Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)

SEA                 Southeast Asia

STOL              Short Take-Off and Landing

TAHS              The Aviation Hobby Shop

TBC                 To Be Confirmed

TBD                 To Be Determined

TPAPL             Turbo Prop Airliner Production Lists

USAF              United States Air Force

USAID             United States Agency for International Development

USCAR            United States Civil Aircraft Register

USMC             United States Marines Corps

USOM             United States Operations Mission (became USAID)

USRQ               United States Register Quarterly

USIS                 United States Information Service

USSF                United States Army Special Forces

USSR                Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

VNAF              South Vietnamese Air Force

VP                   General Vang Pao

VTB-18            Volpar Turbo Beech 18

WFU               Withdrawn From Use

W/O                Written Off

Appendix 2: Bibliography

1.      Air America Association (AAA) web site, including Feature Stories/Articles (q.v.) and Image Library:

2.      Air America and the H-19A, Clarence J Abadie, AAA web site Feature Stories (q.v.)

3.      Air America Rescue, Chuck McGrath, AAA web site Feature Stories (q.v.)

4.      Air America: the story of the CIA's secret airlines, Christopher Robbins, Putnam, New York, 1979 & Corgi Books, 1988, ISBN 0 552 13722 7, first published as The invisible air force: the true story of the CIA's secret airlines, Macmillan, 1979.

5.      Air-Britain Information Exchange (AB-IX): Files web site (C-123, DHC-4):

6.      Airlines of Asia since 1920, R E G Davies, Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1997, ISBN 0 85177 855 0.

7.      America's war in Vietnam: a short narrative history, Larry H Addington, Indiana University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-253-21360-6.

8.      Aviation Safety Network web site (C-46, C-47, Twin Pioneer):

9.      Beech 18/C-45G & H production list: USRQ7, Volume 3, Runway Six Nine, Winter 1978/1979, pp. 7-22.

10.  Beech 18 Conversions and Testbeds, Stephen Darke, Air-Britain Digest, Winter 1998, pp. 10-15 & e-mails from Stephen Darke re Air America Volpar conversions, etc.

11.  Bell 47 production lists: MSB (to be published)

12.  Bell 204B production list: MSB (to be published)

13.  Business Turboprops International 2000, Michael Austen, Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2000, ISBN 0 85130 280 7 (PC-6)

14.  Covert ops: the CIA's secret war in Laos, James E Parker Jr., St Martin's Press, 1995, ISBN 0-312-96340-8

15.  DHC-4 Caribou production lists: MSB (AB-IX Files) + Wayne Buser's spreadsheet & web site (Caribou Roster):

16.  DHC-6 Twin Otter production lists: TPAPL (q.v.) + Dave Holder's web site:

17.  Dornier Do28 production lists: MSB (to be published) + AMCAR14 (pp. 40, 44) & 17 (p. 63) + Hendrik van der Veen's e-mails & web site:

18.  Fairchild C-119 ‘Flying Boxcar' production list: MSB (to be published) + AMCAR78-82

19.  Fairchild C-123 Provider production list: MSB (AB-IX Files) + AMCAR83-85

20.  FH-1100 production list: MSB (Copters Files)

21.  Flipper's Boeing CH-47 helicopter historical database production list web site: + Helicopters web site (q.v.)

22.  Helicopters/Files/Construction Lists web site (CH-47, FH-1100, KB-47):

23.  Helio 391B Courier & 395 Super Courier production lists: AMCAR 44 & 45, Runway Six Nine

24.  Kawasaki-Bell 47 production list: MSB (Copters Files)

25.  Laos: the Rough Guide, Jeff Cranmer & Steven Martin, Rough Guides Ltd., November 1999, ISBN 1-85828-447-3

26.  Lockheed Hercules production list 1954-2001 (18th edition), Lars Olausson, February 2000.

27.  Memories of the Fall of Saigon, April 29, 1975, Fred Walker, Allen Cates, Thomas Grady & E G Adams, AAA web site Feature Stories (q.v.)

28.  Perilous missions: Civil Air Transport and CIA covert operations in Asia, William M Leary, The University of Alabama Press, 1984, ISBN 0-8173-0164-X

29.  Pilatus Porter production lists: AMCAR25 + MSB (to be published) + Markus Herzig's e-mails & web site:

30.  Piston Engine Airliner Production List (2nd edition), A B Eastwood & J Roach, The Aviation Hobby Shop, 1996, ISBN 0 907178 61 8 (C-46, DC-4, DC-6, Twin Pioneer)

31.  Ravens of Long Tieng, Ralph Wetterhahn, Air Space Magazine,

32.  Sikorsky H-34: an illustrated history, Lennart Lund, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1998, ISBN 0-7643-0522-0.

33.  Sikorsky S-58 production lists: MSB + AMCAR82-87, etc. + Lennart Lundh's spreadsheet

34.  South-East Asia Civil Aircraft Registers, (Ed.) Ian P Burnett et al, Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1979, ISBN 0 85130 067 7.

35.  Supporting the “Secret War”: CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955-1974, William M Leary,

36.  The Boeing 727, John A Whittle et al, Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1976, ISBN 0 85130 047 2.

37.  The Curtiss C-46 Commando, John M Davis et al, Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1978, ISBN 0 85130 065 0 + update.

38.  The Douglas DC-3 and its predecessors, J M G Gradidge, Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1984, ISBN 0 85130 119 3 + 2 updates.

39.  The Douglas DC-4, John & Maureen Woods, Airline Publications & Sales Ltd., September 1980, ISBN 0 905117 71 9.

40.  The Douglas DC-4 including Canadair 4 and Douglas DC-5, Peter Berry et al, Air-Britain, October 1967.

41.  The Douglas DC-6 and DC-7 Series (2nd edition), John A Whittle, Air-Britain, 1971.

42.  The Lockheed Constellation Series, Peter J Marson, Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1982, ISBN 0 85130 100 2.

43.  The Lockheed Twins, Peter J Marson, Air-Britain (Historians) Inc., 2001, ISBN 0 85130 284 X

44.  The Observer's World Aircraft Directory (OWAD), William Green, Warne, 1961.

45.  The Ravens: pilots of the secret war of Laos, Christopher Robbins, Asia Books Co. Ltd., 2000, ISBN 974-8303-41-1.

46.  The Vietnam War: the history of America's conflict in Southeast Asia, Salamander Books Ltd., 1998, ISBN 1 84065 003 6.

47.  Tragedy in Paradise. A country doctor at war in Laos, Charles Weldon MD, Asia Books Co. Ltd., 1999, ISBN 974-8237-38-9.

48.  Turbo Prop Airliner Production Lists (4th edition)(TPAPL), John Roach & Tony Eastwood, The Aviation Hobby Shop, January 2001, ISBN 0907178 83 9 (C-130, DHC-6, SC-7)

49.  United States Civil Aircraft Registers, FAA, (a) 01/01/74; (b) 01/07/68; (c) 01/07/72; (d) 01/01/76.

50.  Vietnam: the helicopter war, Philip D Chinnery, Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1996, ISBN 1 85310 827 8.

51.  Vietnam: the ten thousand day war, Michael Maclear, Thames Methuen, 1981, ISBN 0-458-95170-6.

52.  War in Laos 1954-1975,  #6063, Kenneth Conboy, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1994, ISBN 0-89747-315-9.

53.  Wings of Air America: a photo history, Terry Love, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1998, ISBN 0-7643-0619-7.

54.  World Airlines Survey, Flight International, e.g. (a) 13 April 1961, (b) 15 April 1965, (c) 14 April 1966, (d) 6 May 1971, (e) 22 March 1973.

55.  World Directory of Airliner Crashes, Terry Denham, Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1996, ISBN 1 85260 554 5.

Appendix 3: Chronology

29/10/46:         CNRRA Air Transport (CAT) formed by Claire Lee Chennault and Whiting Willauer

03/02/47:         CAT commenced non-scheduled operations in China

02/03/47:         First CAT transport arrives in Shanghai

July 1947:         National Security Act, formation of the US Central Intelligence Agency

1948-1949:      Communist forces take over mainland China

19/07/49:         Laos is recognised as an independent state with ties to France

10/11/49:         Managements of CNAC & CATC defected to the Communists leaving the aircraft guarded in Hong Kong

16/12/49:         CAT moved its aircraft to Formosa

19/12/49:         Chennault & Willauer purchase the Nationalist Government shares of CNAC & CATC and registered their fleets to Civil Air Transport,

                        Inc. (CATI) in USA

01/01/50:         CATI bought Pan American's 20% share in CNAC

1950:               Civil Air Transport Co. Ltd. formed in Taiwan to take over the routes of CATI

08/05/50:         US announced military and economic aid to the pro-French regimes of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

25/06/50:         North Korea forces attack South Korean positions south of the 38th parallel

10/07/50:         American Airdale Corporation (CIA holding company) incorporated

1953:               Operation SQUAW, CAT's operations in support of French forces in Indochina

1953-1954:      Operation REPAT, airlift of Nationalist troops from Burma & Thailand to Taiwan

1954:               Operation SQUAW II, CAT's operations in support of French forces in Indochina, especially during the siege of Dien Bien Phu

07/05/54:         The remnants of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu surrender

July 1954:        The Geneva Accords on Indochina are signed [1], partitioning Vietnam and setting up an ICC to supervise compliance with the

                        Agreements [2]

1954:               Operation COGNAC, CAT's airlift of refugees from North to South Vietnam

31/03/56:         Prince Souvanna Phouma becomes prime minister in Laos

05/08/56:         Souvanna Phouma and the Communist Prince Souphanouvong agree to a coalition government in Laos

29/05/57:         Communist Pathet Lao attempt to seize power in Laos

01/07/57:         First CAT aircraft deployed to Vientiane to service a contract with the US Embassy

07/10/57:         American Airdale Corporation changes its name to Pacific Corporation

31/03/59:         CIA investment in CAT Inc. transferred to Air America, Inc. (or 26/03/59?)

Jun-Jul 1959:    Communist Pathet Lao forces attempt to gain control over northern Laos

July 1959:         USSF Mobile Training Teams dispatched to Laos (HOTFOOT teams)

23/08/59:         First two transports of Air America arrived in Vientiane

Dec 1959:        Second USSF contingent, HOTFOOT 2, replaced the first group

31/12/59:         General Phoumi Nosavan seizes control in Laos

09/08/60:         Captain Kong Lee staged a successful coup d'état in Vientiane and urged restoration of a neutral Laos under Prince Souvanna Phouma

16/12/60:         The forces of Phoumi Nosavan captured Vientiane

04/01/61:         Prince Boun Oum organises a pro-Western government in Laos; North Vietnam and the USSR send aid to the Communist insurgents

1961:               Air America supplied with ~23 USMC H-34 helicopters by Executive Order

16/05/61:         A 14-nation Conference on Laos opened in Geneva [1]

08/10/61:         The Lao factions agree to form a neutral coalition headed by Souvanna Phouma

May 1962:       Phoumi Nosavan's forces are routed, paving the way for a settlement in Laos

23/07/62:         Protocol to the Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos signed in Geneva

07/10/62:         All foreign military personnel to be withdrawn from Laos

April 1965:       Continental Airlines forms CASI by taking over the air division of Bird & Sons, Inc.

Sep 1965:        CASI commences operations in SE Asia

08/10/69:         Souvanna Phouma requests increased American aid to meet heavier Communist pressure in Laos

18/12/69:         Congress prohibits the use of current DoD appropriations to introduce ground combat troops into Laos or Thailand

10/02/70:         Souvanna Phouma states that he will take no action against Communist supply activity along the Ho Chi Minh Trail if North Vietnam will

                        withdraw combat troops from Laos

29/12/70:         Congress adopts legislation that denies funds for the introduction of ground combat troops into Laos or Thailand

27/01/73:         The Paris peace accord is signed and the Vietnam War is officially ended

21/03/73:         Souvanna Phouma and the Communists conclude a cease-fire in Laos

29/03/73:         The last American troops leave South Vietnam

03/06/74:         Last Air America aircraft crossed the border from Laos into Thailand.

30/06/74:         Air America operations at Udorn, Thailand, close down

April 1975:       Clashes occur between Communist insurgents and Laos government troops

April 1975:       Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of refugees from Saigon

17/04/75:         The fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

29/04/75:         The fall of Saigon, RVN

16/05/75:         The Pathet Lao seizes Pakse in Laos

20/05/75:         Savannakhet falls to the Pathet Lao

June 1975:        Pathet Lao troops seize US Embassy property in Vientiane

23/08/75:         The Pathet Lao consolidates the Communist takeover in Laos

03/12/75:         The Lao coalition headed by Souvanna Phouma is abolished; Laos becomes a Communist state with Souvanouvong as President

30/06/76:         Air America finally closed down.


[1] The 14 nations that participated in the Geneva Convention were: the US, the Soviet Union, France, Canada, China, India, Great Britain, Poland, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, North Vietnam, South Vietnam and Laos.

[2] The International Control Commission (ICC) was composed of members from India, Canada and Poland.

[3] This Chronology has been compiled using various sources listed in the Bibliography.

Aircraft Listings

Civil Air Transport

Air America

Arizona Helicopters

Bird and Son and Continental Air Services (CASI)

If you have any comments, suggestions, corrections, or additional information regarding the content of this page, please contact Martin Best directly at

Thank you.