Air America

From WWII to Vietnam

Christopher Robbins

Heroic tales of fearless men in the most death-defying, head-thumping conditions imaginable…

Here is the incredible inside story of the world’s most extraordinary covert operation – Air America, a secret airline run by the CIA, which at its height had the biggest commercial airfleet in the world.

Air America flew the missions no one else would touch, from General Claire Chennault’s legendary Flying Tigers in WWII to two brutal decades cruising over the bomb-savaged jungles of Southeast Asia. Their pilots dared all and did all – a high-rolling, fast playing bunch of has-beens and hellraisers whose motto was “Anything Anywhere, Anytime.” Whether it was delivering food and weapons or spooks and opium, Air America was the one airline where you didn’t need reservations – just a hell of a lot of courage and willingness to fly to the bitter end

First published by Macmillan (UK) in 1979.  Paperback reissue by Orion in 2012.  E-book reissue by Apostrophe Books in 2012.


‘Maileresque characters in real life…Robbins’ material is fail-safe.’
The Boston Globe

‘Bubbles over with the heroic tales of those fearless men who flew any and all aircraft in the most hair-raising, heart-thumping conditions imaginable. The stories of these “patriotic” pilots makes the book a good read as well as a contribution to the sweaty job of digging up the CIA’s buried past.’
Saturday Review

‘The bravery and craziness of these pilots is what makes Air America’s story so singular. The CIA’s dark madness is revealed in the process. It is as readable, exciting and informative a book as we have seen all year.’
The Denver Post

‘An exciting, anecdotal account of the CIA’s privately owned commercial airline.’
Publisher’s Weekly

‘The adventures of some hard-drinking Americans ripping up Asia for fun and profit, when “war took the place of television”.’
Virginia Kirkus Review

‘This rousing, colorful account of Air America and the men (and their women, booze, heartaches, and laughs) from the days of the Flying Tigers to the fall of Saigon. Robbins provides enough to stir up all those troublesome questions about the CIA’s autonomy, accountability and power.’
Library Journal

‘Robbins’ book pictures a world that…demanded a high order of skill and bravery from the men who were there.’
Baltimore Sun

‘Air America…deserves our praise and admiration…’
Business Week

‘The story of the CIA’s secret airline skillfully recounted by Christopher Robbins in an eye-popping, swashbuckling look at what was the world’s largest airline.’
Milwaukee Sentinel

‘The sordid story of an illicit airline is one that needed to be told. The book is full of interesting and unusual stories.’
Des Moines Register

‘… a hair-raiser that has everything, especially raw courage.’
Associated Press

‘Fascinating…Robbins has illuminated the human side of the intelligence business. The story of a dedicated band of brothers who retained their sense of humor and compassion in carrying out some of the most complicated air missions in the history of aviation. An even-handed book which deserves careful reading by those who wish to understand how and by what means the CIA attempted to carry out our national policy in Southeast Asia since the end of World War II…The story not only rings true, it conveys the real smell of what went on.’
Col. William R. Corson
(Author “The Betrayal“, “The Armies of Ignorance.”)

‘This fascinating account of the CIA’s covert airline bureaucracy begins like a spy novel and ends by raising the hair on your head.’
Dayton Daily News

‘Both an exposé of illegal CIA activities and an action-packed adventure story.’
Erie Times

‘Compelling reading. You will find the excitement and pace as keen in this book as in any fiction. The anecdotes, however, are much better. And it is in the heroic role of the Air America pilots during the last days of Vietnam that the story is best told.’
Daily Press, Newport New, VA.

‘The author has been able to put together the inside story of this secret airline…heroic and shocking.’
The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne

‘The author has spun a marvellously fascinating tale…makes the “dirty tricks” of Watergate look downright cute.’
The Peninsula Times Tribune

‘The capacity for celebrating courage in battle seemed to be lost from the American national spirit during, and for a long time after, the Vietnam War. We had no heroes there, perhaps because we had become too embarrassed and discouraged by the kind of war it was to acknowledge them and write about them. All our soldiers were, in effect, unknown… Yet brave men abounded in Vietnam, as they always have for every nation in every war…Warfare has always been full of instances of men rising above their masters.’
James Canaan, Washington Correspondent, Business Week

‘The history of Air America is an adventure story that could have been picked out of a boys’ magazine. The company served as a model for Milton Caniff’s shady outfit, Air Expendable in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates. The real-life story is more extraordinary.’
Los Angeles Herald Examiner

‘Robbins treats the CIA air organisations objectively in this work, showing admiration for the pilots and much that they accomplished without blenching from describing some of the incredible CIA foul-ups and the incompetent case officers competent pilots were sometimes forced to work with. He captures the flavor of adventure, danger and uncertainty that was the Air America pilot’s daily lot. He also does an excellent job of portraying some of the most colorful of the Air America pilots…despite the built-in disadvantages of trying to research a classified operation, Robbins assembles a wealth of material’
Soldier of Fortune

‘Robbins has made a valuable contribution to public knowledge of the war. His greatest contribution was to depict accurately the characters that flew for Air America. Through numerous personal interviews Robbins gets to know the kind of adventurers who have worked from the airline from its beginnings…ranging from the freebooting soldier of fortune to the gung-ho super-patriot out to stop communism to the old war horses who still long for the thrill of combat…A good account of the CIA’s involvement in the war…overall high quality…an exciting piece of journalistic history.’
Air War University

‘A fine book.’
William Shawcross, The Sunday Telegraph

‘A remarkable story by any standard… well-written and readable tale of real, and often larger than life, derring-do… Robbins captures admirably the spirit of the men involed and the environment in which the worked, played and died.’
Flight International

‘The story of an incredible spy operation…a spook airline that didn’t even exist on paper. Its pilots were tough, hard-drinking adventurers who preferred not to ask too many questions – or answer them. The sort of flying Air America went in for would turn the average jumbo pilot’s hair white in a single flight.’
Daily Express

‘History that reads like the best adventure fiction.’
The Bookseller

‘Hard-drinking soldiers of fortune who flew the CIA’s dangerous missions for pay and the love of adventure…Larger than life characters hooked on adrenaline to the extend that they were unable to face a life in which no-one was shooting at them.’
Western Daily Press

‘The ebb tide of every war throws up its flotsam and jetsam of itchy-footed adventurers A special breed, they wither with the hum-drum of normal life…but bloom on danger and dollar-fat wallets. These are the men sought out by Christopher Robbins during long investigation in America and the Far East…Heroes on the ebb tide of war.’
Sheffield Morning Telegraph

‘Air America dared all, did all. Its history is an adventure story that almost passes belief. How the airline operated, how it broke the rules, how its pilots performed adventurous prodigies make “The Invisible Air Force” one of the year’s most extraordinary books.’
Exeter Express and Echo

‘Typifies the American adventurer Hollywood is at pains to portray…An absolutely fascinating story of men flying a strange collection of machines in even stranger circumstances.’
Grimsby Evening Telegraph

‘How the CIA made pigs fly…An immense undercover operation is laid bare here. The author tells a tale of high adventure and no little gaiety at all times. On this last count alone it is a compelling read.’
Southern Evening Echo

‘The author has done some notable detective work… There will never be anything like Air America again.’
The Oxford Mail

‘What goes on in the shady area between official politics and open warfare. Unbelievable secrets laid bare. “The Invisible Air Force” reads like a work of fiction, but it’s fact down to the last full stop. A real eye-opener on the world of international spying and makes even James Bond Seem almost real.’
The Bugle

‘Christopher Robbins, one of today’s breed of investigatory newsmen and authors, has unravelled the whole of the genesis, development, ownership and activities of this undercover air force in a totally absorbing study which reads like an adventure yarn. The author wisely avoids political judgement and allows the actual facts to be retold by those who actually made the history.’
Lloyds List

‘Fascinating…Its adventures read like the best fiction…incredible story.’
Eastern Evening News

‘Reads like the very best in adventure fiction…A remarkable true story which will captivate all who enjoy reading better than average fictional war stories.’
Sheffield Spectator

‘Very exciting…a fascinating book that’s a bit of history, a bit of Alistair Maclean-type adventure, and a great kick for anybody who’s interested in planes and flying. The anecdotes come rocketing off the page, the history is very recent, and the adventure is high, wide and not very handsome. It all adds up to 310 pages of total excitement.’
RTE Radio 1, Eire

‘Gallops along at a great pace… The complete tale is fascinating… I followed it to the end with total absorption.’
Pattaya Mail, Thailand

‘Compelling… Fast-paced and witty.’
Things Asian

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