Capt. Neil Hansen, a former Air America pilot who flew in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, will be taking part in a book launch and signing at the EAA Aviation Museum on Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m. for his new book Flight: An Air America Pilot’s Story of Adventure, Descent and Redemption. Neil, who is currently an EAA Aviation Museum docent, and his co-author Luann Grosscup will be on hand to speak about the book and answer questions from the audience. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event.
Prior to getting hired by Air America, the CIA’s secret airline that operated from 1950 to 1976, Neil enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and then transitioned into corporate aviation. As a corporate pilot, he flew for Jimmy Hoffa, the famous labor union leader who was the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In 1964, Neil was hired by Air America and flew different operations in Southeast Asia that aided the U.S. government and military until the U.S. pulled out of the region in 1975.
While with Air America, Neil flew numerous types of aircraft, including the Douglas DC-6 and DC-3, Beechcraft 18 and C-45, Dornier Do 28, and Fairchild C-123. In his 11 years in Southeast Asia, Neil flew a variety of different missions in support of the U.S. military, with many of them centered on resupplying bases outside of the boundaries of Vietnam.
“Particularly in Laos, we were resupplying fire bases up near the Ho Chi Minh Trail and other areas. … Technically this was a totally illegal operation,” Neil explained. “There was no American military allowed in Laos because it was a neutral country. But the Russians were there, the Chinese were there, the Communist Laotians, the North Vietnamese — everyone was in Laos and we all shot at each other. But it was a neutral country, so the U.S. did not want to admit they had such a thing in the country so they kept us secret.”
In his time flying missions for Air America, there were multiple instances in which Neil was either shot out of the sky or took enemy fire, but managed to escape.
“It wasn’t fun. I was lucky. In the last 18 months when I was there with Air America, we lost over half of our C-123s. I had the only crew that came out alive,” Neil said. “We ended up bailing out of the airplane. An awful lot of [Air America pilots and crewmen] lost their lives and the sad part about that whole thing is the 240-some guys that died working with Air America, none of their names are on [the Vietnam Veterans Memorial] wall. The only place you’ll find them publicly displayed is in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The Hmong there erected a memorial near Lake Michigan and put all the Air America pilots and Special Forces guys’ names on their wall.”
While much of the book will focus on Neil’s time with Air America, he also goes into his time with different operations after the U.S. government dissolved the airline following the end of the Vietnam War.
With essentially his life story ready to be out in the open for public consumption, Neil is excited, even if some parts of the book are a little unsavory.
“It’s a bit like the good, the bad, and the ugly with wings,” Neil said with a laugh. “To be perfectly honest, that’s kind of how the thing flies. My kids are excited about it and we’ve got quite a group of people coming to be at the book launch. … There’s a lot of stuff [in the book] and I hope it becomes very valuable.”
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