Civil Air Transport

Civil Air Transport

Civil Air Transport (CAT) (IATA: CT, ICAO: CAT, Call sign: Mandarin) (民航空運公司) was a Chinese airline, later owned by the CIA, that supported United States covert operations throughout East and Southeast Asia. During the Cold War, missions consisted in assistance to Free World allies according to the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949.



CAT was created by Claire Chennault and Whiting Willauer in 1946 as Chinese National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (CNRRA) Air Transport. Using surplus World War II aircraft such as the C-47 Dakota and the C-46 Commando, CAT airlifted supplies and food into war-ravaged China. It was soon pressed into service to support Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang forces in the civil war between them and the communists under Mao Zedong. Many of its first pilots were veterans of Chennault's World War II combat groups, popularly known as Flying Tigers. (Other of Chennault's veterans went on to form another air transport company, the Flying Tiger Line. This was a completely separate operation from Civil Air Transport and the follow-on Air America.)

By 1950, following the defeat of Chiang's forces and their retreat to Taiwan, the airline faced financial difficulties. The CIA formed a private Delaware corporation called Airdale Corporation, which formed a subsidiary called CAT, Inc. The subsidiary corporation purchased nominal shares of the Civil Air Transport. CAT maintained a civilian appearance by flying scheduled passenger flights while simultaneously using other aircraft in its fleet to fly covert missions.

With the spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia, CAT’s mission changed.

Military operations

Chinese Civil War

During the Chinese Civil War, under contract with the Chinese Nationalist government and later the Central Intelligence Agency, CAT flew supplies and ammunition into China to assist Kuomintang forces on the Chinese mainland, primarily using C-47 and C-46 aircraft. With the defeat of the Kuomintang in 1949, CAT helped to evacuate thousands of Chinese to Taiwan.

Korean War

During the Korean War, CAT airlifted thousands of tons of war materials to supply United States military operations, including support of Kuomintang holdouts based in Burma. On 29 November 1952, a CAT C-47 left Seoul on a mission to collect an anti-Communist Chinese agent in the Manchurian foothills, using a "pole and line" technique. The mission appears to have been compromised and Chinese forces were waiting for them. Approaching low over the ground, it was set upon by small-arms fire and crash-landed near the town of Antu in China's Jilin province. The pilots, Robert Snoddy and Norman Schwartz were killed during the crash and subsequent fire, and were buried nearby. The two CIA officers, John T. Downey and Richard G. Fecteau survived and were immediately taken prisoner by Chinese forces, who were waiting for the flight. Downey and Fecteau were held by China and regularly interrogated for nearly twenty years. Fecteau was released unexpectedly following Nixon's visit to China in 1972, but Downey was only released after Washington publicly acknowledged their spy mission in 1973.

At the time, the families of the pilots were told that they crashed into the Sea of Japan on a routine flight to Tokyo, in order to keep the CIA's covert actions in China secret. In 2001, China allowed the US Defence Department's Prisoner of War and Missing in Action (POW/MIA) office to conduct a recovery effort for the bodies of the pilots. In 2005, the POW/MIA office announced that it had identified the remains of Robert Snoddy using DNA analysis. Schwartz's remains have not been successfully recovered.

The 1952-1953 edition of Jane's All The World's Aircraft lists the head office address as Suite 309, Kass Building, 711 14th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., with the footnote that the company had reregistered in the U.S. The president is given as Whiting Willauer, and the fleet, which consisted of 23 Curtiss C-46 Commando and 4 Douglas DC-3 aircraft.

First Indochina War

CAT pilots flying C-119 during the siege of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954.

CAT transported supplies and troops for French operations during the First Indochina War as early as Operation Castor in November 1953.[1]

CAT assisted the French government at various times during its Indochina wars, flying supplies and equipment into Hanoi's Gialam airport and other fields using C-46 and C-47 transport planes.

At the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, CAT supplied the French garrison by parachuting troops and supplies with covert USAF C-119 inscribed with French Air Force insignia. In February 2005, seven surviving CAT pilots out of the thirty-seven involved in the battle received the honorific title of Legion of Honor during a special ceremony at the French Embassy in Washington.[1]

Two CAT pilots James B. McGovern, Jr. and Wallace Buford were killed in action during the siege of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. They were the very first American casualties of the upcoming Vietnam War.[1]

The 1956-1957 edition of Jane's All The World's Aircraft lists the head office address as 46 Chung Shan Road, North, 2nd Section, Taipei, Taiwan (Formosa). The president and general manager is given as Hugh L. Grundy, with C.J. Rosbert listed as vice-president and assistant general manager. The fleet is listed as 2 Douglas DC-4, 22 Curtiss Commando, 2 Douglas DC-3, 3 Douglas C-47, and 2 Convair Catalina.

In the 1958-1959 edition of Jane's, the last year in which the "Airlines of the World" section was carried, the home office address in Taiwan remained the same, but no company officers are listed. The fleet is given as 3 Douglas DC-4, 25 Curtiss C-46, 5 Douglas DC-3, 2 Convair Catalina, with 2 Douglas DC-6B on order.

A CAT C-46D in Indochina.

PRRI/Permesta movement in Indonesia

In 1958, Time Magazine reported 20 CAT aircraft were supplying the PRRI/Permesta movement against the Sukarno government of Indonesia, which was feared to have communist sympathies. On May 18, 1958, CAT pilot Allen Pope was captured by Indonesian government forces after shooting down his Douglas B-26 during a bombing raid on the port of Ambon.[2][Full citation needed]

Vietnam War

In 1959 it was reorganized as Air America, which supported covert operations throughout Indochina during the Vietnam War (also known as the "Second Indochina War"), particularly in Laos. For further information see the article on Air America.

Post Vietnam War

After pulling out of South Vietnam in 1975, there was an attempt to keep a company presence in Thailand; after this fell through, Air America officially disbanded on June 30, 1976.

Civil operations

1966 photo of a CAT Convair 880 at Taipei Songshan Airport

Now based in Taiwan, CAT started to operate scheduled passenger services, beginning with international flights to Hong Kong, then to Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as domestic routes within Taiwan. The granddaughter of Sun Yatsen, Nora Sun, became the youngest flight attendant to work for CAT.

The first flights were carried out with C-46, then C-54 Skymaster aircraft. In 1958, CAT inaugurated DC-6B services. In 1961, CAT started to operate a Convair 880M, becoming the first airline to operate pure jet scheduled passenger services on regional routes in the Far East.[3] The Convair 880M was replaced by a Boeing 727 in January 1968. On 16 February 1968 the 727, flying from Hong Kong to Taipei, crashed near Linkou in northern Taiwan, ending 23 years of operations.


  • On 20 June 1964 Civil Air Transport Flight B-908 was a Curtiss C-46-CU[4] crashed near the village of Shenkang in western Taiwan, killing all 57 people aboard. Among the dead were 20 Americans, one Briton and members of the Malaysian delegation to the 11th Film Festival in Asia, including businessman Loke Wan Tho and his wife Mavis. [5]



See also

External links

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