Oil on Canvas, 2010
Donated Courtesy of Owen Lee Gossett
Continental Air Service, Inc. (CASI) provided essential contract flying services to the Central Intelligence Agency during the war in Southeast Asia. The original CASI holdings came from the aviation division of Bird and Sons, Inc., a San Francisco heavy-construction company operating in Vietnam and Laos. Owner William H. Bird sold the aviation division, including many of its aircraft and employees, to Continental Airlines in 1965 to form CASI, which began operations that September.
Between 1965 and 1975, more than 260 CASI pilots and maintenance personnel operated aircraft and ground facilities in support of the CIA as well as the US Agency for International Development, US Operations Mission, and other US Government organizations throughout South Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore.
Included in CASI’s fleet was the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter depicted in the painting. Designed and built by Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. in Stans, Switzerland, this single-engine turboprop aircraft was known for its unique STOL (short takeoff and landing) capability. Unloaded, the PC-6 needed only the length of a football field to take off and even less to land; with a 3,300-pound payload, it needed about double those distances. This STOL capability, combined with high reliability and versatility in almost all weather and terrain conditions, made the Turbo Porter ideal for “up country” missions.
CASI pilots regularly operated from primitive dirt landing sites, often flying in poor weather, with few navigational aids, under the constant threat of enemy fire, and in the midst of towering mountains and unforgiving karst formations. Despite this challenging environment, CASI played a vital role during the war, delivering food, medicine, and other essential supplies to isolated outposts throughout the war-torn Lao Kingdom. Always alert to on-going military operations and at great personal risk, CASI crews also performed numerous rescues of downed airmen. Their crucial work required the very best aviators and aircraft. CASI pilot Lee Gossett flew his trusty PC-6 Turbo (shown in the painting with Lao registration XW-PCI) during the late 1960s and early 1970s, fondly recalling, “The old girl brought me home every night.”
Because many of CASI’s flights were in support of covert missions, many of CASI’s accomplishments have remained in the shadows. Even family members were often unaware of the true nature of CASI’s dangerous work. On 2 August 2007, the Hon. Loretta Sanchez told the CASI story on the floor of the US House of Representatives, honoring the gallant CASI personnel who “sacrificed their own safety for the safety of American soldiers and for our country.” The painting is a tribute to the importance of this historic aircraft and CASI’s support to CIA operations in Southeast Asia.