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.









About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

14 responses »

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great post. I wonder if a good candidate for being the Cuban pilot was Pedro Diaz Lanz? He was the ex head of Castro’s air force before defecting and was also associated with David Atlee Philips and connected to the Freeport Sulphur ‘thing’ along with Clay Shaw. Wondered if you’d found anything to suggest this might be a possibility?

    • Diaz Lanz certainly does come to mind and he was active in some of the very early “independent” air activities – along with Frank Sturgis – in the year or so after his defection. However he attempted to start his own military group and that never really got off the ground, by the time of the Bay of Pigs he was really off on his own. In discussions with the pilot in Dallas, the Cuban mentioned that his expertise in flying the DC-3 type aircraft had come from his time flying them in the Cuban air force and that he had personally been involved at the Bay of Pigs. That pretty much lets out Diaz Lantz and beyond that there is nothing showing him to be associated with the Artime effort which started in 1963. That effort was relatively structured and involved “old timers” with CIA experience and training from the BOP effort – people like Rolando Quintero and Felix Rodriquez. Artime recruited a lot of them personally. What we really need are the personnel from that group and the CIA
      air officers assigned to support it – for example the Cuban pilot in Dallas mentioned that the American with him was actually an Air Force Colonel.

      As a side note, the lead to the conspiracy is probably peripheral to the Artime effort – the Cuban mentioned that those involved the conspiracy hated John and Robert Kennedy equally, feeling RFK had been involved in persuading his brother to call off the BOP air support. The thing is that the primary supporter and driver behind the Artime effort was actually RFK and RFK was close to many of the Artime group Cubans. Still, we have leads that more than one of the Artime group had at least heard some solid talk about the Dallas attack even if they were personally involved.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Larry, thanks for the detailed explanation! Very interesting. So probably we need to be looking into Artime’s associations. I’ve long considered the redbird airport story to be an important part of the puzzle. Thanks for putting all this info up on your blog. I only found it recently.

    • I definitely agree, and although they usually are not considered together, Gene Wheaton’s information about Quintero being aware of the involvement of exiles in the conspiracy – individuals with some of the same training and experience he had, strikes me as important. We have the Red Bird pilot story from January who kept it to himself for years and completely independently we have Wheaton hearing something similar and only sharing it confidentially at the time of the ARRB. That’s a pretty strong circumstantial connection. And beyond that we have RFK’s call to Harry Williams the afternoon of the assassination (Williams being a part of the Artime project and in DC for planning meetings) with the remark that “your people did it.” All in all it seems to suggest involvement of individuals at least known to some of the folks in the Artime project.

      As to the blog, well I’ve only been doing it for a few weeks now. Once I finished NEXUS and got it in print, I decided to start a blog to address some of the loose ends left laying around and also to talk about related issues concerning national security and covert operations. We’ll see if I can think of enough to keep it interesting…

  3. Alan Kent says:

    “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…”

    Is there specific evidence of this Houston Air Center involvement that seems persuasive to you? Matt Smith contacted John Craig out of Houston, who told him that it was well-known that HAC was used by the Agency. which was a provocative statement by Craig, but…I don’t know that I would hang a whole lot on his assessment alone!

    What subsequent research do you refer to, here?

    • Good catch Allan, I probably over committed myself on that – or talked before I should have anyway. As you said, Matthew Smith did do some further inquiry on it but, uh, well I’m doing research for another project dealing with CIA covert warfare and have been spending a lot of time looking at proprietaries and in particular, weapons and materials transactions (hence the reference to Garrett Underhill). About all I will say is that I’ve come across a lot of links that go though Texas, Houston, San Antonio and other locations. It seems rather amazing the amount of stuff that was purchased on the east coast and actually trans-shipped through Texas. In some instances large shipments were held in Texas and either committed to a project or at some point returned to the source if the project didn’t work out.

      And interestingly enough the aircraft in question had been modified so that all the passenger seats had been removed, making it more suitable for supply/parachute drops – but after its deliver to Houston Air Center it was actually held for almost two years, before being resold to a Mexican airlines – after the Artime initiative had been canceled, with no use for such aircraft.

      So, I’m not prepared to be any more definitive on Houston Air Center at this point, heck I might write another book. But I would love to have people email me who have information about either proprietary operations or in particular about Houston Air Center. One reason for this blog is not only to elaborate on some things in my published books but to discuss and “prospect” in other areas.

  4. Ingemar says:

    I have some additional information on the aircraft :

    Douglas C-53D-DO, c / n : 11682

    USAF : 42 – 68755

    FAA : N17888 ( after the aircraft went to Mexico City the FAA could reassign N17888 and finally did so in 1972 ).

    On 27 January 1944 the aircraft was involved in an accident at Sedalia Army Air Field, MO, which was renamed Whiteman Air Force Base in 1955.

    If the aircraft was manufactured in 1944 ( SWHT, 2006, p. 256 ), it must have been in January.

    Last flight for Braniff International Airways was on 28 February 1959.

  5. Ingemar says:

    I have found another DC-3 type of aircraft that ended up at the Houston Air Center :

    Douglas C-47A-30-DL, c / n : 9590

    USAF : 42 – 23728

    FAA : N1433V

    1943 : Royal Australian Air Force

    1946 : Guinea Airways

    June 1953 : Meteor Air Transport

    December 1953 : Brogue Electric Manufacturing Co.

    1963 Jack Richards Aircraft Sales

    1965 Houston Air Center

    1968 Houston Aviation Products Corporation

    • Ingemar, thank you for sharing the information on both aircraft.

      For anyone new to this subject, we are discussing an incident from Red Bird airport in which a Cuban exile pilot taking possession of an aircraft made specific comments about the pending attack on President Kennedy. This is one of the most significant leads available to us because it would point to a person who might have been able to identify actual individuals associated with or knowledgeable of the conspiracy.

      The (my) supposition at the moment is that the aircraft were being purchased in support of the very active Artime/autonomous group project which was involved in purchasing a variety of transport and weaponry at this time. It the pilot and/or the US officer who was with him could be identified, and actually associated with the Artime project it would be signficiant. Anyone interested in pursuing the lead and desiring more detail can contact me via email.

  6. Ingemar says:

    I have found the name of one of Artime’s pilots. This pilot was also involved in the Bay of Pigs operation, although not as a pilot. This means that he cannot be the one who was at Redbird Airport :

    “Shortly after arriving in Miami, ( Jorge “El Puma” ) Navarro signed up for the Bay of Pigs invasion. He and a few others were taken to Useppa, a small island off the coast of Fort Myers, Florida. They were tested and classified by the CIA and U.S. military personnel. Those with prior military experience were sent to train in the hills near Fort Gullick [ sic ], at the then Panama Canal Zone.

    Navarro explains : “As there were many pilots much more experienced than I, I accepted to be infiltrated into Cuba to train the resistance prior to the invasion. My group of infiltrators was dropped at a remote area in the southern coast of Pinar del Rio Province by the CIA’s Rip Robertson. This was February 1961, [ ….].”

    Navarro [ …. ] exited Cuba in late September 1961. As soon as he arrived in Miami, he was recruited by Rip Robertson to conduct sabotage raids against Castro’s Cuba.

    Following President Kennedy’s Orange Bowl speech, Navarro joined the U.S. Army and trained at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In August 1963, he joined the Artime group after obtaining an honorable discharge from the U.S. military. He was one of the pilots of a CIA C-47 aircraft, which transported weapons and supplies to anti-Castro units in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.”

    ( Frank R. Villafaña, Cold War in the Congo, 2009, pp. 46 – 47 ).

    • Ingemar, I don’t know if you have looked into pilot Hector Varone but apparently he did some flying of multi-engine aircraft for Atime – he shows up with Artime in one airfield shot in a LIFE magazine photo essay.

      I don’t really know his history but it might be a name to check into if you have not already done so.

  7. Ingemar says:

    Hector E. Varona Fernandez was not a pilot at the Bay of Pigs, but a Parachute Drop Officer ( document number 141164 on the CIA’s website ).

    He was released by Castro and arrived at Homestead Air Force Base on 22 April 1963 ( New York Times, 23 April 1963 ).

    My candidate for being the Cuban pilot at Redbird Airport is Antonio Michel Yabor Justiz and my candidate for the Air Force Colonel is the then Assistant Director of Operations at the Special Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Lt. Col. Harry C. “Heinie” Aderholt.

    • Leslie Sharp says:

      In reading up on Aderholt, I see that he was “involved in evacuating Hmong leaders from Laos as the Pathet Lao communist army advanced on their base at Long Tieng in May 1975. … Aderholt was informed that help was needed to evacuate the Hmong who for more than a decade had comprised the “secret army” in Laos assisting the U.S. in fending off the North Vietnamese Army in the Laotian Civil War. He located three American transport aircraft and pilots in Thailand. He had the planes “sheep dipped” to remove all markings identifying them as American-owned and sent them to Long Tieng. In four days of intense activity, the transport planes evacuated more than 2,000 Hmong, including general Vang Pao and Jerry Daniels, his CIA case officer.[5]”

      According to Gerard Colby/Charlotte Dennett (“Thy Will Be Done – The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil”) ” … In early 1975, as the Montagnard revolt spread in the Central Highlands and the Saigon army collapsed, Larry Ward, President of a private Christian relief agency called Food for the Hungry, abandoned his post as special adviser to the Saigon regime on rural minorities and fled to Thailand. Ward subsequently contacted SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) and arranged meetings between Hmong leaders and SIL in Bolivia. Ward’s contact in Washington was Cleo Shook …assoc. director of AID’s Office of Private and Voluntary Cooperation… Shook’s access to more than $240 million in foreign aid funds resulted in cash grants to many Christian missionary groups that were doing relief work abroad, including those in Thailand. Some of that money was targeted for the relocation of the Hmong to Bolivia, where SIL’s David Farah helped coordinate the project. …. the Banzar regime designated more than 37,000 acres for the Hmong (in the Beni region) … the Hmong’s facial characteristics would fit in very well with the American Indian of the Amazon basin. …. (why did Banzar welcome the Hmong to the Beni region of Bolivia?) … Part of the answer may have been the Hmong’s recent history as the CIA’s largest fighting army….”

      SIL was heavily funded by the Rockefellers as well as H. L. Hunt in Dallas, home to SIL, and its parent organization Wycliffe Bible Translators, when it was relocated from North Carolina.

      According to Colby/Dennett, Cleo Shook and Larry Ward denied any collaboration with the CIA in the relocation of Hmong to Bolivia.

      The dates, “early 1975 and May, 1975” coincide to at least warrant the question, did Shook and or Ward ‘inform’ Aderholt that help was needed to evacuate the Hmong, or was it the other way around?

      The Alto Beni region had been Che Guevarra’s first choice for his guerilla training camp in Bolivia.

      David Farah, SIL’s man in Bolivia at the time was the father of Douglas Farah, former journalist with The Washington Post and currently a national security consultant and analyst.

      (5) Thompson, Larry Clinton, Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010, 55-59

      • Leslie, I have done a bit of study on Anderholt as part of my covert warfare book. If you are interested in him and have not read it I would recommend his bio, Air Commando One. Anderholt does describe the urgent mission to get at least some of Vang Pao’s people out and talks about his paying for Air America flights to take several hundred out to Thailand. Another source is David Corn’s book on Ted Shackley, Based on that and soume other sources it appears that Shackley largely abandoned the Meo; although Anderholt had several hundred flown out, the vast majority had to make it out on foot. When the new Lao government turned against Vang Pao, he was evacuated to Thailand but hundreds of thousands of Meo then literally walked out of Laos as refugees to Cambodia and Shackley (and everyone else) just turned their backs on them and said it was a Thai problem.

        At the time, Anderholt was largely tied up with events in Cambodia but he had left Thailand at the end of 1975. A large number of the Hmong/Meo did eventually come to the U.S.; I was unaware of the numbers you cite going to Bolivia. That is very intereststing but I’m guessing it was an independent relief effort. By that point in time most of the Latin American covert action was with the military assistance groups and everyone was just coming to realize what a monster had been created with the Condor alliance in the southern cone. Sorry I can’t add any more but I am aware of those private “evangelistic” efforts in general but its not a subject I have studied myself. Sounds to me like they were part of the “NGO”/ Notn Government Organization movement that was starting around the world at that time….in Latin America it was Christian; in SW Asia and Africa it was Muslim.

        — Larry

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