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Civil Air Transport (CAT) (IATA: CT, ICAO: CAT, Call sign: Mandarin) was a Nationalist 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 was apparently 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 released only after Washington publicly acknowledged their spy mission in 1973.

At the time the families of the pilots were told, in order to keep the CIA's covert actions in China secret, that they had crashed into the Sea of Japan on a routine flight to Tokyo. In 2001, China allowed the US Defense 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 Gia Lam 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] {McGovern's remains were recovered in 2002 and identified in 2006}

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 that 20 CAT aircraft were supplying the PRRI/Permesta movement against President Sukarno's government of Indonesia, which the Eisenhower administration feared had communist sympathies.[2][full citation needed][3] In April 1958 two CAT pilots flew combat missions for Permesta's Angkatan Udara Revolusioner ("Revolutionary Air Force") or AUREV. William H Beale, Jr[4] and Allen Pope[5] flew CIA Douglas B-26 Invaders for AUREV. In May, Beale withdrew from the operation,[6] by which time a third CAT pilot, Connie W Seigrist, had joined flying a CIA Consolidated PBY Catalina.[7] The CIA directed Beale and Pope to target not only Indonesian armed forces but also unarmed foreign merchant ships, in order to frighten overseas trade away from Indonesian waters, thereby weakening the Indonesian economy and undermining Sukarno's government.[8] On April 28, 1958, Beale attacked the Royal Dutch Shell terminal at Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, sinking the British tanker MV San Flaviano,[9] while Pope off the port of Donggala near Palu in Central Sulawesi sank merchant ships from Greece, Italy and Panama.[8]

On May 18 west of Ambon Island, Pope attacked one of a pair of Indonesian merchant ships that were carrying government troops for a counter-offensive against Permesta.[10] An Indonesian Air Force P-51 and anti-aircraft fire from the ships shot down the B-26[11] and Pope and his Indonesian radio operator were captured.[12] The CIA had ordered the CAT pilots to fly "sterile", i.e. with no documents that could either identify them or link them with the US Government.[13] However, Pope was carrying about 30 documents[14] including his detailed flight log,[14][15] secret orders for temporary deployment in Indonesia,[15] military separation file[14] and CAT identity card.[14] Pope's capture with these documents immediately exposed the level of CIA support for the Permesta rebellion.[16] Embarrassed, the Eisenhower administration quickly ended CIA support for Permesta and withdrew its agents and remaining aircraft from AUREV.[17]

Early in 1960 an Indonesian military court tried Pope; in April it convicted him and he was sentenced to death.[15] However, in 1962 Robert Kennedy negotiated with President Sukarno and in August that year the Indonesian authorities released Pope and returned him to the USA.[18]

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

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.[19] 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. The remnants of the cargo operation became Flying Tiger. Flying Tiger International merged to Fed Ex Inc.


  • On 20 June 1964 Civil Air Transport Flight B-908 was a Curtiss C-46-CU[20] 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.[21]
  • On 16 February 1968, a CAT Boeing 727 plane (Mandarin Jet, B-1018) flew from Hong Kong to Taipei. Before landing to Taipei Songshan Airport, the plane failed to capture ILS signal from TSA, caused it crashed at Linkou, resulting in 21 deaths for all 52 passengers. This incident had eventually led to the closure of CAT.



  • Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport
  • Japan Naha Airport, Haneda Airport, Itami Airport
  • Philippines Ninoy Aquino International Airport
  • South Korea Gimpo International Airport
  • Taiwan Songshan Airport, Tainan Airport, Taichung Shuinan Airport (zh)
  • Thailand Don Mueang International Airport

See also



External links

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