Some of the more significant leads relating to the events of November 22, 1963 come from Red Bird airport, south of Dallas. I cover them in some detail in Someone Would Have Talked but they don’t get much discussion these days and I suspect a lot of folks are not even aware of them – so I’m going to devote a few posts to the subject.
Perhaps the most critical of them all has to do with the purchase of a C-53 transport (WWII troop carrier version of the legendary DC-3) which was being transferred from ownership by two companies at Red Bird to the Houston Air Center. It was the last of a series of such airplanes sold during 1963 and one of the Dallas owners, Ray January, was handling the hand off of the aircraft. January is a key source for several of the incidents involving Red Bird and he actually tried to take some of them to the FBI immediately after the assassination – but after determining that the only thing the FBI was interested in was if he had ever personally known Jack ruby or visited his clubs, January seems to have concluded that he was wasting his time and it would be best to hold his own council on such things. It would only be due to the work of English author and researcher Matthew Smith, that the following story would become known (after many years of his friendship and contact with January) – and even then January required Smith to keep his true name confidential, and made that contingent upon his wife’s approval after his death.
According to January, the week of the President’s assassination, two men had come to Dallas to do an acceptance check and take possession of the aircraft. The men were not directly connected with Houston Air Center but appeared to be representing the actual new operators of the plane. One, the pilot, was a Cuban exile, very proficiant with the aircraft and very involved with the checks and acceptance. The other, presenting himself as an American military officer but not in uniform spent little time at the airport and left the work to the Cuban pilot. During the week January became good friends with the Cuban because of their common love of aircraft and of course they discussed affairs pertaining to the pilots homeland. At one point, the pilot told January it was too bad that President Kennedy was going to have to die when he came to Dallas – but that it would be revenge for his actions in pulling air support at the Bay of Pigs and dooming the exile brigade. January simply could not belive such a thing and expressed his doubt – the Cuban simply said “You will see”, and as it turned out, flew the aircraft out of Dallas the afternoon of November 22. January only saw him briefly at that time, a time when the first vague reports about something happening in the motorcade in Dallas were hitting the news – the Cuban said good by and only remarked “It’s all going to happen like I told you.”
Of course this is a pretty dramatic story, but the thing is, as more information became available over the years, its basics have been corroborated – based on an the registration number of the aircraft, which Smith was only allowed to disclose after January’s death (and with extensive help from an FAA employee who prefers not to be named), we managed to confirm the sale of the aircraft, exactly as described by Ray January. In doing so, folks at the Houston Air Center who know the history of the Center and its activities were also quite helpful – right up to the point where I gave them the aircraft registration number and they realized where I was going. After that – nothing (not a new experience in JFK research). However, subsequent research makes it pretty clear that Houston Air Center was involved with logistics support for certain CIA operational activities in the secret war against Castro and also suggests that the aircraft in question was being purchased to support the new Artime/AMWORLD effort being moved offshore. An effort which was supposed to be totally deniable and allowed Artime’s group a large degree of autonomy in its anticipated military activities (funded to the extent of an estimated six million dollars over a period of three years beginning in 1963).
It would be very nice to know more detail about the air activities of Artime’s effort (and yes documents show the CIA was assisting him in the lease of similar transport aircraft through third party companies). We do have the name of one of his favorite pilots and the name of an American military officer connected to the effort but much more work could be done; it seems a very fruitful area for research – and so far there is really nothing to suggest that January should not be considered a reliable source.