Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tale about a Tail Number (Part II)

This is a story about how people involved in intelligence operations hide behind corporations, and about how corporations disguise covert ops behind the guise of business. When I began this research project, I had no pre-conceived notions about what I might find. After a few delays and one accidental deletion, things are finally becoming clearer. After years of doing this sort of research it has been my experience that accidents--such as inadvertently deleting material that was almost complete--are gifts rather than mistakes. Starting over without groaning, following new instincts, usually leads in a direction that would have been missed otherwise. In this case that new direction led me to David Harold Byrd, as you will see below.

In Part I we reviewed briefly the title to Tail Number N-17888, set out in documents provided to me by Alan Kent. Larry Hancock wrote that, according to what Wayne January told author Mitchell Smith, N-17888 was one of several airplanes he sold which were to be used in secret government projects, after "being processed through companies at Red Bird and Houston Air Center." Thus it appears someone within those companies was a witting accomplice with the Central Intelligence Agency. Our aim in this segment is to answer the question of who was involved in creating and operating Houston Air Center.

NAvion Aircraft History

Refer back in Part I to the section under the heading "Background Title on N-1788," where we reviewed the title to the Red Bird airplane. Before coming to Wayne January's company, its previous long-time owner had been Navion Aircraft Co., a division of TUSCO. Here we will explore who that was and what that fact represents.

The first airplanes called NAvions were built for the Air Force during the final years of WWII at the former Hensley Field, created in 1940 as a training base for Army and Navy pilots. North American Aviation was a defense plant operated by the federal government there, just east of Grand Prairie. Along with it was a housing development (called Avion Village) set up to provide housing for the almost 40,000 workers this plant and others in the area employed until 1945.

Eventually, this same Grand Prairie plant would be operated by Texas Engineering and Manufacturing Company, known by its acronym, TEMCO, a company which by 1947 was making B-25 bombers for South American countries, including Brazil and Mexico, under its president and general manager, Robert McCulloch. By the end of 1948, Temco would roll out its first "reconditioned" airplane for the Chinese Nationalist government, backed by the Office of Strategic Services during the closing days of WWII.

In a previous post at this blog, QJ reported on how the Nationalist Chinese army had financed its purchases of military hardware, using CIA bankers as middlemen in converting opium into airplanes by quoting from The Marcos Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave:
[Paul] Helliwell’s first major assignment after the war was to find a way for the CIA to subsidize the airline, Civil Air Transport, owned by Major General Claire L. Chennault, which had been used to furnish materiel to the anticommunist Chinese in Southeast Asia. In 1951 Helliwell set up Sea Supply as the CIA’s first proprietary company in order to transport weapons to the Nationalist Chinese troops in Burma and to Thailand police, whose Chief was involved in the opium trade. The planes were not returned empty after the guns were unloaded; they were filled with drugs destined for the United States — usually Florida. The money derived from the sale of the drugs had to be laundered for the CIA, and Helliwell figured out how to do it.
Neil Mallon of Dresser joined Temco Board.
At this same Grand Prairie plant, Temco would soon be building a variety of aircraft in the light twin market throughout the post-WWII and Korean War years, but NAvcon's single-engine four-seater "type certificate" had been sold in late 1948 to Ryan Aeronautical Co. Temco had ceased making this design for civilians in order to fulfill an Air Force contract awarded it that year for the military version (L-17) used in the Korean war.

Gerard P. Moran, at his website celticowboy, has written a concise history of Navion aircraft. The "type certificate," was the abstract design of the plane approved by CAA, and not the business entity authorized to manufacture the design. According to Moran:
By 1949 Ryan began introducing changes to improve the Navion (the capitalization of the 'A' was dropped as it was an abbreviation of North American). Auxiliary fuel tanks, improved instrumentation were popular options, as were colorful paint schemes. Ryan produced another 158 upgraded L-17Bs ordered in 1948 by the United States Air Force and a final order of 5 L-17Bs in 1949 for the Hellenic (Greek) Air Force....
Even though Ryan's order books were full, Ryan had to face an undeniable truth -- they lost money on every Navion they built. Each plane cost about $15,000 to make, and basic models were selling for as little as $9,500. At the end of 1952 Ryan ceased all Navion production. A total of 2,350 had been completed (1 prototype, 1,109 by NAA and 1,240 by Ryan).
While the Navion was still in production, the USAF returned (in 1948) to place another order, this time for 163 upgraded L-17Bs. A further 35 L-17As returned to the factory for the same upgrades, becoming L-17Cs. In 1952 the USAF deployed L-17s to the Orient in the first wave of the Korean War....
For some time, going back to the North American Aviation days, there had been interest in converting the single engine Navion into a more powerful twin engine version. Neither North American or Ryan were able to divert resources to such a project because of increasing military demands.... [O]n November 10, 1952, one full year after starting, with their Twin Navion, the plane, designated D-16 (D for Daubenberger) received its CAA certification. Interestingly, before the Twin Navion the Civil Aviation Authority had no way of certifying modifications as extensive as those done for Daubenberger (all were approved using the Major Repair and Alteration Form). This, plus a couple of other major conversions led the CAA to develop the Supplemental Type Certification [STC] process that is still in place today.
Almost immediately word of the D-16's existence spread across the United States, and in Florida, Jack Riley entered the Twin Navion story. Jack Riley was a self-made millionaire in the oil business and a natural salesman. He had formed a company, Riley Aircraft Corporation, to sell, refurbish, upgrade or modify general aviation aircraft in Florida. He obtained licensing and or certification from original manufacturers.... He took a trip to see the Navion manufacturing facility in California. After only a couple days in California, the businessman returned home with the Twin Navion's production rights....
Eager to sell his new twin Jack Riley took his plane to Dallas, Texas, where he demonstrated it to some 30 or 40 potential customers. Riley admitted that owners of single Navions were his primary customers, since they already knew the plane and could continue to expect the same performance, handling and ruggedness that they'd come to expect from their own planes. That tour resulted in the company's first sale, with two more following. Within a couple months the books were filled with orders for more than three dozen planes....

As production began, prices increased from $20,000 (initial sale price) to $24,850. This was nearly three times the price of a used single Navion but with Jack Riley's salesmanship there were always customers. In March 1953 a production agreement was entered with TEMCO Aircraft Corp., a well known subcontractor, maintenance provider for the USAF and small plane manufacturer. The next month, TEMCO purchased the exclusive production rights to the 'Riley Twins.' Jack Riley meanwhile returned to Florida where he remained responsible for marketing and sales. It also appears that Riley Aircraft served as a broker for Navions, buying them on the used market and then reselling them to TEMCO when an airframe was needed. [Italics added. Keep in mind the old type certificate (TC) for the single-engine Navion was still owned by Ryan.]
A new corporation was formed to purchase the single-engine design from Ryan Aeronautical. Navion Aircraft Co., later changed to NAV Corp., was initially set up in 1958 as a division of Tubular Service & Engineering Company (TUSCO).

Who Created TUSCO?

When I first saw this name, I was struck by its similarity with the name TEMCO, with capital letters used as an acronym for a descriptive name for what the company did. Could the two companies have been created by the same individuals perhaps? I decided to do some digging along this line, comparing the two acronymic manufacturers.

We look first at a chapter entitled "Byrds, Planes, and an Automobile" from Richard Bartholomew's classic work, Possible Discovery of an Automobile Used in the JFK Conspiracy - Part 4, in which he mentions Temco. The implication is there that Lyndon Johnson had enough influence over Temco's hiring practices to obtain a job with the company which would morph into E-Systems for his favorite assassin, Malcom Everett "Mac" Wallace. Temco began simply enough as a WWII era airplane manufacturer, helped along with financial backing from D. Harold Byrd, Dallas oilman. Byrd, who helped establish the Civilian Air Patrol (CAP), sought out electronics expert James Ling to turn Temco into a conglomerate which added electronics and missiles to balance military and civilian sales. Then Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) "sorta got outa control," as we say in Texas.

Back in 2011 QJ looked into D. Harold Byrd's foray into uranium mining, exploring his connections in that field, as well as his ownership of the building in Dallas which was to become known as the "Texas State Schoolbook Depository Building," even though it was only leased to that business six months prior to the November 1963 assassination. That curiosity ate up the next year while we examined connections to Israelis in Canada, Roy Cohn and eventually Florida real estate development, not to mention the history of the pseudononymous author of the Torbitt Document. Understanding history is a time-consuming endeavor!

Even though a photograph of D. H. Byrd appeared in numerous Texas newspapers in December 1932, showing him receiving a flag given him by his "cousin," Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia, genealogical records did not at first indicate there was any kinship between the two men. However, as I dug deeper into Byrd's family background, some amazing facts came to light.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

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