At this year’s Farnborough Air Show, we had the expected announcement that did not get to much coverage, but important in many ways to some airlines around the world, that Lockheed Martin is launching the certification and eventual production of the commercial version of the C-130J Hercules, the LM-100J a successor to the commercial version of the Hercules, the L-100-20/30.
The new commercial variant of the C-130J (above) is now the LM-100J. Lockheed Martin believes it can sell 75 of the new aircraft at around $65m each to replace the roughly 48 L-100-30’s still in active service (31 in commercial use and 17 in military/government use) out of the 115 built. Lockheed Martin has already secured the initial order for 10 x LM-100J’s from ASL Aviation Group (Dublin, Ireland) that owns South Africa’s Safair (6 x L100-30’s) and Ireland’s Air Contractors (2 x L-100-30’s). With 30% more power from its Rolls Royce AE2100D3 engines, the LM-100J will be 10% faster, have 15% less fuel burn and 35% lower direct operating costs over the existing L-100-30’s. The fact that 30 of the 115 L-100’s were written off (inc. 6 shot down) says novels about its operational use.
In this article, I will talk about the new LM-100J, and current operators. As well, I will dwell in to the secret world of clandestine airline operations and the illegal and illicit arms trafficking by civilian air operators from North America, Eastern Europe, former Soviet Union and Africa, who they were, who they worked for what equipment they used and how they used flags of convenience to hide ownership, non-existing certificates of airworthiness, lack of maintenance, training and any sort of aviation oversight, a free for all operation.
It is a long article sorry, but informative, read what you can, I provide ‘briefs’ under photos for quick summary, lots of information as usual, the world of aviation is very broad and very interesting, come and learn with me something new.
To those not up on international politics, or who have never left the ‘normal’ western aviation routine, never operated in Africa, or worked for secretive operators or been in a war zone this may be an eye opener to how the bad end of the airline industry can be manipulated, where an AOC (air operators certificate), C of A, C of R can be abused for illegal activities that bring huge financial rewards for those with little morals and big greed and how they were able to last so long, but first let’s finish our talk on the Hercules, an aircraft well known for its unique capabilities by the good and the bad.
I can write a book on this but will try my best to do so as short as possible to lay out the political climate and the introduce at least the players and their backers.
I have a great admiration for the Hercules, as of today around 2,465 have been built since 1954, of this 115 were the commercial/civilian version the L-100-20/30 built between 1964 and 1992 (115 built in 28 years is only 4.1 units per year on average – not a big commercial success of course), of which only 48 are in service today.
Do understand that a military C-130 is not certified for commercial operations, only the commercially certified L-100-20/30’s can, making them very valuable to many commercial operators around the world for their ability to carry 40,000+ lbs. of cargo and operate in and out of remote unprepared airfields with large outsized cargo.
The military C-130H (on the left) is the equivalent of the commercial L-100-30 (on the right), the only difference is that the engines for the C-130 military aircraft are referred to as T56 and the commercial L-100’s have the Allison AN501’s because it is a commercially certified engine, ‘basically’ the same engines on both.
Now, those unique capabilities so valuable to commercial operators were also very valuable for many clandestine operations for the transfer of arms and ammunition directed to conflict zones, embargoed nations or non-state actors. The business was rather easy to get into, a few old Russian AN-12’s for $200,000 each, cooperative Generals, customs officials a false “End User Certificate” that identifies the buyer, when weapons are transferred from legitimate buyer to countries or militant groups that are placed under sanctions, its a “gray” area where forging an end user agreement is a must, even Colonel Oliver North used forged end user certificates to ship arms to the Contras, though end user was the military in Honduras, El Salvador or Panama, it went to the Contras (more on that in this article).
While the launch of the LM-100J is not headline news, it is important to the 11 existing civilian L-100-30 (L382F) operators which combined operate 31 of these very versatile aircraft today with another 17 in 9 countries military inventories, and it got me thinking.
In my University days when I studied International Relations/Diplomacy in regard to global conflicts and security and I have spent a great deal of time in Africa, and seen, heard and read a great deal about the irresponsible arms transfers that fueled years bloody civil wars that killed millions of innocent people.
Now some of these civilian operators below do have a “questionable” history when it comes to clandestine/covert operations involving illegal or illicit transportation of arms and ammunition into war zones in the past, which I will dwell into further down in this article.
- Air Algerie x 1
- Safair (South Africa) x 6
- Transafrik (Angola/Uganda) x 5 (3 leased to National Airlines-USA)
- Uganda Air Cargo x 2
- Lynden Air Cargo (USA) x 4
- Lynden Air Cargo PNG (Papua New Guinea) x 3
- Air Contractors (Ireland) x 2
- First Air (Canada) x 2
- National Airlines (USA) x 0 (operates 3 leased from Transafrik under 5X (Uganda) registration)
- Prescott Support Company (USA) x 2
- Tepper Aviation (USA) x 4
The following 9 Air Forces operate the remaining 17 commercial L-100-20/30 Hercules in use.
- Argentine Air Force x 1
- United Arab Emirates Air Force x 1
- Royal Saudi Air Force x 1 (Special Flight Service)
- Ecuadorian Air Force x 1
- Peruvian Air Force x 2
- Kuwait Air Force x 3
- Algerian Air Force x 1
- Indonesian Air Force x 6 (status unknown)
- Libyan Air Force x 1
In fact, Libya had 5 L-100-20/30’s before the Civil War operating for Libyan Arab Air Cargo (previously known as Jamahiriya Air Transport), and well known for flying a large cargo fleet, including two AN-124 Ruslan cargo aircraft (max. payload 330,000 lbs) only 55 built, and the only African operator of the type.
Libya somehow managed to acquire 5 L-100’s (3 x L-100-30’s and 2 x L100-20’s) under the US embargo, it still has 8 brand new C-130’s parked, paid and moth balled in Marietta, Georgia since 1974, Col. Qaddafi paid $70m up front, but with US sanctions applied, Libya was never allowed to pick them up. Now L-100-30 registered 5A-DOO (mn 4992) (above photo on the left) never made it past the revolution, but L-100-30 registered 5A-DOM (mn 5000) (above photo middle) did make it, in fact the only L-100 to make it, and even had the new livery of the new Libyan Air Force applied, though with the fighting around the airport since July and 20+ aircraft destroyed at Tripoli Airport, I hope 5A-DOM was out of country. When these aircraft were under Jamahiriya Air Transport or Libyan Arab Air Cargo (commercial fronts for the Air Force through which it made money for “someone” high up), you know they were flying all over Africa, probably doing much good but also up to no good as well. Finally, Colonel Qaddafi’s VIP B707-320 (registered 5A-DAK) (far right photo), he had an all female body guard squad with him where ever he went, I was trying to replace it with something newer, eventually an Airbus A340 was bought.
I know the company well, during my time in Libya, I tried to buy out 2 of their L-100-30’s for international operations for the United Nations (UN) and other assignments, at that time the value of each aircraft was around $7m. The operator did transport great deal of arms to various African countries, including troops to help Uganda’s Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada fight his loosing war against Tanzania in 1979, and did have IL-76, AN-12’s, AN-26’s, Yak-74’s to AN-124’s.
But also, as with many of the arm shippers in Africa, it flew a great deal of humanitarian air as well. The same applies to Victor Bout (2005, Nicolas Cage movie “Lord of War” was modeled on Bout), who was the world’s most efficient ‘postman’ could deliver any kind of cargo-anywhere, through his almost 30+ companies, he flew guns, ammunition, troops, diamonds for the Taliban and Liberia’s Charles Taylor to food for the UN to rebuilding material to Bagdad for the US military. The problem is that it is too easy, the broker gets an End User Certificate that names the recipient country and company or organization, many times that is just a forgery, many times the named recipient country is just a smoke screen, hiding the real destination/organization.
Once the aircraft departs with the good all checked and cleared, there is nothing to stop it from either diverting to a new destination, so you file a flight plan for Kampala, Uganda but you end up in Juba, South Sudan for instance. Its all about having the connections to make things happen, usually in Africa it is bribes that make things happen, and Viktor Bout learned the system well, and its how he got the nickname “postman” anywhere, anything anytime.
Now as for the L-100 Libyan fleet before the Civil War, when I was trying to buy out 2 of the -30’s for international operations, as the Libyans had plenty of C-130’s as well.
5A-DHI L-100-20 (382E) mn 4355 built 1969
5A-DJR L-100-20 (382E) mn 4302 built in 1976 acquired in a ‘secret’ deal from the Philippines
5A-DJQ L-100-30 (382G) mn 4798 built 1978
5A-DOO L-100-30 (382G) mn 4992 built 1985
5A-DOM L-100-30 (382G) mn 5000 built 1985
Today, only 5A-DOM survives (maybe) as fighting around Tripoli airport the last 8 weeks has destroyed over 20 aircraft worth $2.0+ billion at last count.
A side note of interest, there are presently 8 brand new C-130’s ordered and all $70m was paid for by Libya in 1994, and still mothballed after 40 years never used due to US sanctions imposed on Colonel Qaddafi. I understand there are many spare parts inside the aircraft as well, and I was asked in 2011 if I want to represent Libya and go to Marietta and appraise the aircrafts condition and see what is salvageable or not, but I had other projects on the go at the time, so I passed. How Libya got its three L-100-30’s in the 1980’s is a mystery, they all had former N registrations (N501AK, N4268M and N4269M).
A poor picture of 4 of the 8 C-130’s Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi ordered and paid for in 1974-1975 and still sitting in mothballed condition at Marietta, Georgia waiting for acceptance. These aircraft were paid for in advance ($70m – 40 year old prices) but sanctions prevented delivery, low time, low cycles but everything is timed out after 40 years ! the word is that there are spares inside the aircraft as well.
The new LM-100J will be priced at around $65m each and expects to sell around 75 of the aircraft. With a current production rate of only 24 C-130J’s at Marietta, Georgia which is apparently a sustainable rate for the foreseeable future, I guess Lockheed Martin could produce something like 5 to 6 x LM100J’s a year for the next 12 to 15 years.
The new LM-100J is powered by 4 x Rolls Royce AE2100D3 turboprop engines of 4,637shp (30% more power than the Allison AN501-D22A or T56 engines on the L-100’s and C-130’s), offering a max speed of 355kkts, 3,262 nm range, 2,200 nm with 40,000 lbs. payload and a takeoff distance at gross weight of 3,127 feet, as well, against the L-100-30 it offers 10% more speed, 40% more range 15% less fuel burn and 35% less direct operating costs and a flight crew of only two with the flight engineering eliminated.
The new LM-100J surely has commercial appeal, building on the success of the C-130J to military operators around the world and no surprise that the 1st customer was ASL Aviation Group based in Dublin, Ireland which ordered 10 LM-100’s worth $650m, the company is the owner of South Africa’s Safair and Ireland’s Air Contractors which have 8 x L-100-30’s between them. ASL is a subsidiary of Belgium’s Compagnie Maritime Belge a large shipping company owned by the Savery family of Antwerp.
Safair was first established as an airline in by Safmarine a South African and American owned shipping company (bought and merged with Danish owned A.P. Moller-Maersk Group in 1999) and started operations on 18 March 1970. Its primary client in the 1980s was the South African Defence Force (SADF).
Safair in the 1970’s and 1980’s was no angel, it’s L-100-20/30 fleet grew to 16 aircraft in 1977 and several Boeing 707’s (above left and center photos), it was the transport arm of the South African Defence Force (SADF), de fact part of the SAAF (South African Air Force) as economic sanctions on the white apartheid regime had isolated South Africa from all but a few. I assume Safmarine made lots of money during those years flying troops and arms to Angola and South West Africa, and who knows where else, while the B707’s would fly the Prime Minister P.W. Botha around on VIP trips as well as cargo missions, etc.
Safair wet leased 2 L-100-30’s to Canada’s Northwest Territorial Airways in 1978 to 1982 at a time international sanctions against South Africa were being tightened, and was a poor PR move by the founder of NTA Robert Engle, who built the airline from nothing to a big player in the north and in 1997 First Air acquired the company.
Times have changed and now FlySafair a new low cost carrier (LCC) in South Africa has finally got the green light to take on the likes of SAA and its LCC Mango, and today the company provides valuable service for the UN, WFP and many other organizations trying to help the peoples of Africa in times of destruction and chaos.
Before, I start talking about the various air carriers involved in arms trafficking, I want to finish off with some interesting information on the L-100’s and its operational history, as the history of the 29 accidents that lead to total write-offs, says novels about their use, and a good lead in to the name and shame of arms running airlines of the past.
Now for the Canadians who are reading this, we have sadly had two fatal accidents of L-100-20’s both of Pacific Western Airlines, the first was on July 16, 1969 CF-PWO crashed in Cayaya, Peru, where the wing hit the ground on a go around.
The second PWA accident was on November 21, 1976 CF-PWX, in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo, with low fuel, landing in fog with no runways lights, the aircraft crashed in the jungle, one survivor.
Most of the L-100 accidents, 19 out of 30 (63%) were in Africa, in fact 12 were in Angola alone (40% of ALL L-100’s written off), (Angola at the time was fighting a civil war with rebels supported by the South Africa, USA, and other Western countries) of which 6 were shot down between 1981 and 1999, now you see where I am heading with this. With 30 out of 115 written off, that is 24% of the fleet, says a lot about where and how they are operated, remote and potentially dangerous regions.
Between 1975 and 2002 Angola had its Civil War, it was the central player in a Cold War, as the USSR and its Eastern European and Cuban allies took on South Africa and the US in a bitter war.
From 1981 to 1987 the war was intense, South African troops were inside Angola fighting along side Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA forces, which in 1986 received $25m (surely much more was sent) from President Reagan along with Stinger missiles to combat the Angolan military backed by 40,000 Cubans.
In Africa, Russian aircraft are everywhere, the Il-76 (top left) and to a lesser degree now the TU-154 (above right), these aircraft were very cheap to buy, as after the fall of the USSR there were hundreds of aircraft just parked throughout the former Soviet Union. In fact, it was the abundance of cheap aircraft, pilots and mechanics that gave Viktor Bout to start an air charter airline, which eventually grew to 30+ aviation companies with 50+ aircraft from AN-28’s, AN-26’s, to IL-76 freighters.
With the Soviet Air Force on life support, Victor Bout picked up aircraft and pilots on the cheap, sue many had no Certificate of Airwotthiness or needed overhauls, but by putting them on a ‘flag of convenience’ like ships, you register the aircraft in a country different from where the ownership of the aircraft is,where regulations are loose or non existent, its cheap, avoids tough regulations and in some cases just pay an annual fee and the heck with maintenance, training, AD’s, TBO’s, just fly the plane till it cannot fly !
That is why aircraft registered in places like Moldova (ER), D.R. Congo (9Q), Equatorial Guinea (3C), Sao Tome e Principe (S9), Benin (TY), Central African Republic (TL), Kyrgyzstan (EX), etc. were and some still are, popular.
In this scenario, the arms smugglers came in, flying AN-12 (Russia’s ‘Herc’), AN-76’s, IL-18’s, L-100’s many were shot down, many were on legitimate UN missions as well, but in war who can tell ? and the list of shot down the L-100’s begins:
- May 16, 1981 a Angola Air Charter L-100-20 (D2-EAS) was shot down by missile in Cubango Province, Angola.
- October 14, 1987 a Zimex Aviation (Switzerland) L-100-30 (HB-ILF) on a UN flight was shot down by a missile Cuito, Angola.
- January 5, 1990 a Angola Air Charter L-100-20 (D2-FAG) shot down by a missile Menongue, Angola.
- March 16, 1991 a Transafrik L-100-30 (CP-1564 leased from Bolivia) was shot down by a missile Malanje, Angola.
- December 26, 1998 a Transafrik L-100-30 (S9-CAO) was shot down by a missile Huambo, Angola.
- January 2, 1999 a Transafrik L-100-30 (D2-EHD) operating as a UN flight was shot down by a missile Huambo, Angola, only 7 days after another L-100 was shot down in the same place.
In total 12 L-100’s were written off in Angola, one operator, Transafrik which I will talk about in more detail later, lost 6 Hercs, 3 shot down and 2 in accidents, on October 12, 2010 a Transafrik L-100-30 (5X-TUC) crashed near Kabul, Afghanistan flying for US or NATO, yet this airline is well known for arms smuggling.
So of 115 L-100’s we know 30 were written off (26%) that is a very high number indeed, and says a lot about the nature of the work the aircraft has undertaken, dangerous ! Six commercial Hercs were shot down, so you know they were in war zones, not your normal aviation duty for sure.
I can also say that the Russian “Herc” the AN-12 also took a toll in Africa, many were shot down and many were written off, they tended to be the illegal gun runners, though they also played a major role for the UN and WFP (World Food Programme)., just like Safair’s and Tranafrik’s L-100’s, two operators that supplied the arms to create the carnage and human disasters that the UN then had to help deal with, so you make money on the arms that fueled the wars and then you fly the food and medicine’s to ‘heal’ the damages from the war, sad world indeed.
Commercial air carriers have long been involved in the transport of arms and troops to conflict zones for state and non-state actors responsible for major human rights abuses, where gross violations of human rights has occurred from Nicaragua, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Colombia and many more.
Please do not think this is too far fetched, this is all documented, and I will explore Viktor Bout’s Air Cess and his web of aviation companies that fueled the wars, flew th diamonds and rare metals stolen during those wars and then flew in UN peacekeepers, food, medicine and supplies needed for restoration after the wars.
Viktor Bout’s flagship firm was Air Cess (AN-12 above). It was the only firm where he was listed as its President, with the main base in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, in fact Sharjah (1 of 7 emirates that make up the UAE) allowed its airport to be used by many dubious operators, and the airport surely knew it was the local equivalent of Ostend, Belgium (European main hub for “gun runners”), why ? well in 1995 it became a free tax zone and soon became known for its very lax oversight, corruption and close ties to Islamist radicals (Note: Taliban regime was recognized by only 3 countries in the world, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), Sharjah was the main shopping center for the Taliban, it could buy arms, satellite phones to generators, and Bout serviced Ariana Afghan Airways aircraft there in the open, the airline controlled by the Taliban mullahs, and sold them cargo aircraft to bring arms, material and more fighters in and drugs and operatives out.
In Sharjah, Air Cess Holdings and Air Cess Liberia were based, then there was Air Cess Swaziland, Air Cess Rwanda, etc. a real web of many companies, where aircraft could be de-registered overnight and registered somewhere else the next day. Air Cess, Air Pass, Santa Cruz Imperial Airlines, Bukavu Aviation, Centrafrican Airlines, etc. aircraft could be seen in all the major hot spots, Liberia, Afghanistan, D.R. Congo, Rwanda and others.
Maybe a few definitions and comments are needed now in regard to this topic. Weapons smuggling has a history dating back thousands of years, yet the last 25 years have seen major changes in the geo-political arena with the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalization of industry, emergence of non-state actors, privatizations of many arms companies, relaxation of trade barriers, financial controls and a large surplus stock of arms from former communist countries.
What is arms trafficking ? it is the transfer of military equipment and services of any nature that violates national and international laws and agreements at the date of transfers. While a clandestine arms delivery is a concealed or hidden arms transfer or an arms transfer in which the true recipient is concealed or hidden.
Like any business, the arms traffickers cultivate business relationships with individuals and institutions in a position to facilitate the transactions, be it the arms or the shipment. The contacts range from political figures, military personnel, security and intelligence personnel to those involved in shipping, licensing, inspection to finance, on the outside it appears all involved are legitimate businessmen, on the inside it is a shady underworld of greed, corruption, bribery, blackmail and a total lack of morals.
I am discussing the shipping side, the topic is too big and for some controversial, but even the air transport side is difficult, there are around 6,000 air operators of all sizes around the world on 205+ national registries, 700+ main air cargo carriers operating 2,200+ cargo aircraft, lots of ‘flags of convenience” (aircraft registries where money is more important than the state and condition of aircraft, qualifications, training, maintenance, etc.) (ie. In 2006 tiny Moldova in Europe had 197 registered large aircraft and 79 belonged to air operators with bases outside of the country, you know they were up to no good !).
A few of the ‘bad’ boys during the past 20 years, Silverback Cargo Airlines (above left) DC-62F (one of two) from Rwanda (9XR registration) no longer in business, they were supplying lots of arms to the Rwandan Army’s drive into Eastern D.R. Congo and to its allies. Then Trans Air (above center) DC-8-62F (one of two and a DC-873CF) from D.R. Congo (9Q registration), lots of flights to Ostend, Harare, they were making their contribution in the Congo war and still in business. Then Johnsons Air (above right) Boeing B707-300C (one of many) from Ghana (9G registration) a regular at Ostend, no longer in business.
Affretair of Zimbabwe, was during the 1960’s and 1970’s the airline that kept white ruled Rhodesia supplied by air, with two DC-8-55 freighters (photo above), started in Gabon as a associate company of Air Trans Africa in 1965 by South African fighter pilot Jack Malloch, the airline was taken over by the new Zimbabwean government in 1983 under the control of Air Zimbabwe (ex-Air Rhodesia) and grew to include a DC-8-71F and a DC-8-73F, but went bust in 2000 with a reported $800m in debt !
The topic is too broad, so consider this an ‘Introduction to the Unscrupulous side of Airline Management 101’ that to most of you that have never worked or will work in less developed countries, you will not see, hear or read much about, but it is out there.
The deep involvement of the commercial aviation industry in the transport of military equipment, troops and commodities that have contributed to the build up to war, outbreak to war and covert operations.
This is the “Business of War”, and is very profitable and in part illegal and in part illegal, but irresponsible it is according to international humanitarian law and human rights law. These operators are based in various countries, including in all of the permanent 5 members of the UN Security Council, few of these operators have ever been sanctioned by the international community or UN for their irresponsible activities.
That is mainly because the intelligence and military communities contribute to their protection from public scrutiny and legal actions, in return for protection and high margins.
So let’s look at the various clandestine air operators of the past, and start with Safair of South Africa.
During the dark days of South Africa’s white racist ‘apartheid’ regime, Safair’s 16 strong Hercules fleet by 1977 was “the” transport arm of the white regime which was battling wars in Namibia, Angola and Mozambique, so arms, ammunition, troops and other war material were the norm of its cargo, helping the SADF fight off so-called “communist’ guerrillas, like Nelson Mandela who sat out the struggle on Robben Island. The country was under economic sanctions by almost the whole world, cut off, air transport was vital to keeping the white apartheid regime in power, it needed arms and ammunition.
Today, Safair operates 6 x L-100-30’s and will eventually receive the new LM-100J, the days of keeping the SADF (South African Defence Forces) supplied are long gone, it is in the business of ACMI (aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance) leasing from flying for the UN to supporting Antartic expeditions and bases (photo above), just doing good work with a great airplane.
During these dark days of the 1980’s Safair grew, and bought Boeing B707’s for cargo and VIP transport, even flying P.M. P.W. Botha and fellow cabinet members Pik Botha and Magnus Malan to Zaire in 1988 to meet President Mobutu, one of the few African leaders willing to meet with the South African regime.
It also bough dubious operators like Air Swazi Cargo in 1986 with its B707 as well as Lesotho Airways, while in 1978 it leased 2 L-100-30’s to Canada’s Northwest Territorial Airways, the last Safair Herc left Canada in 1982, most likely needed in Angola and South West Africa.
I should point out that when the apartheid regime did collapse and freed Nelson Mandela in 1990, the country disclosed it had produced 7 complete low yield (10-18 kilotons) tactical nuclear bombs (with 55 Kg of HEU-enriched uranium) and one half-finished bomb thanks to the help of Israel, and these ‘nuks’ were modified to be carried by the SAAF fleet of Buccaneer and Canberra aircraft, wow ! they were seriously planning to use nuclear weapons in Africa ! South Africa is only one of three nations to give up its nuclear arsenal, the other two nations being Canada and Ukraine.
Up against Mig-23’s in Angola, South Africa was also able to configure its SAAF Mirage III’s into the Atlas Cheetah (a performance enhanced Mirage III that’s was sold to Chile and Sri Lanka) which was basically the Israeli IAI Kfir modification to the Mirage 5.Given that Israel and South Africa had a good military cooperation and the fact that the conversion of 38 x Cheetah C’s used no South African airframes, it is fair to assume Safair could have been used to transport Mirage III airframes to South Africa, either way Safair’s L-100 were used to bust sanctions and to supply the SADF in its cross border wars. Surely the company was heavily involved in supporting the SADF in its Border War in Angola first against the MPLA and later the Cubans and other Soviet allies and against SWAPO in South West Africa.
In 1991 Safair diversified into aircraft maintenance and overnight courier operations before concentrating on leasing and chartering. In 1998 it purchased a 49% stake in Air Contractors, based in Ireland, and was itself acquired by Imperial Holdings for $40 million in December 1998. It has been a big contributor to UN disaster relief in Africa and WFP (World Food Programme), ironic given its past, but that is the story of many of these operators, the good, the bad and the ugly all in one.
In July 1999 Safair acquired National Airways Corporation and Streamline Aviation, and today is growing, having just announced its FlySafair LCC (low cost airline) will start shortly with 2 x B737-400’s after being halted last year by a high court ruling, a better future for the once infamous air arm of the SADF.
The Boeing B707-320C (J6-SLF) and the L-100-20 (J6-SLO) of St. Lucia Airways in 1985, later another B707-320C was added (N525EJ) this tiny airline was at the center of the arms for hostages scandal as the airline was flying the arms to Israel and Iran with F-4 Phantom, F-104 Starfighter and tank parts and HAWK missiles. It was always odd to me back in the 1980’s what would such an airline be doing in St. Lucia ? Later it also carried out flights for the CIA to Angola, Kelly AFB to St. Lucia to Cabo Verde to Kamina AFB (DR Congo today, Zaire back then) and on to Angola, the Stingers it was carrying ended up shooting down 6 L-100’s killing several Americans.
The airline was shut down by the CIA when the Arms for Hostages scandal was revealed and the L-100-20 (mn 4129) went to Tepper Aviation, another CIA operation, and sadly it was destroyed in a crash on November 27, 1989 landing at Jamba, Angola with a load of arms for UNITA, the owner of Tepper Aviation and Captain of the flight, Bud Tepper was killed, he always denied his aircraft were ever near Angola ??
Side note: The Caribbean was a jumping off point for clandestine flights to Angola from 1975 to around 1999, the Cubans used their national airline Cubana de Aviacion to fly IL-62’s filled with Cuban troops bound for Angola, stopping in Barbados before making the long trek to Luanda, Angola. On October 6, 1976 a Cubana DC-8-40 (with RR Conway 509 engines) registered CU-T1201, Cubana flight 455 with 73 passengers and 5 crew bound for Havana was blown up 8km from the then Seawell Airport, Barbados, all on board perished. Eventually 4 men were arrested and tried in Venezuela, the two C4 bombs were on timers, all belonged to anti-Castro organizations, 2 spent 20 years in Venezuelan jail, 1 was acquitted and Luis Posada Carriles fled Venezuela after 8 years to Panama and then the US, today he is a free man in Florida, even though his terrorist attack on a civilian aircraft killed 78, no further comment needed.
This is Cubana’s CU-T1201, a DC-8-40 blown up by anti-Castro terrorists in Barbados on October 6, 1976, one of the terrorists, Luis Posada Carriles lives in Florida a free man.
Now these clandestine airlines popped up everywhere, St. Lucia Airways of St. Lucia was always an odd ball for me growing up around 1984 and following airlines around the world, what the heck is an airline doing with 2 Boeing B707 freighters (J6-SLF and N525EJ) and a L-100-20 (J6-SLO mn 4129) in St. Lucia, first clue,” if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck it is a duck” meaning sometimes things may not be what they seem, to obvious this was NO commercial operation, I wonder what the Eastern Caribbean CAA was thinking about this operation and one more I will talk about.
The airline was owned by German born Dietrich Reinhardt who lived in Florida, and well known within CIA circles.
Sure enough, this airline was the big player in the US arms for hostages, flying US HAWK missiles, F-4 and F-104 parts, tank parts and Colonel Oliver North to Iran in exchange for freed hostages from Lebanon being held by Hezbollah and the CIA profited from this and used the money to fund the Contras fighting the leftist Sandanista Government in Nicaragua even though the US Congress barred the Reagan administration from continuing to fund the Contras supplying arms and intelligence (Boland Amandment), later the whole thing was blown wide open with Colonel North in the middle of the scandal, and the airline was shut down in 1988.
This little St. Lucia based airline did most of the work for the CIA during the arms for hostages period and later it continued to fly for the CIA to the DR Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) flying Keely AFB-St. Lucia-Cabo-Verde-Kamina AFB (DRC) and onwards to UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi in Angola, including Stinger ground to air missiles that shot down 6 x L-100’s in Angola !
One of Tepper Aviation’s four L-100-30’s, the airline is still in operation and probably still active with CIA operations, some reports say it undertakes Rendition flights, that is the transportation of prisoners to another country, where in short, they can be tortured beyond water boarding.
The L-100-20 of St. Lucia Airways (mn 4129) was moved to Tepper Aviation a newly created company in 1987, which picked up where St. Lucia Airways left off, undertaking CIA and US military flights to this day with 4 x L-100-30’s.
The founder of Tepper Aviation was Bud Tepper a pilot had a close involvement with the CIA, but always denied his Hercs were ever in the Congo or Angola. Mr. Tepper died November 27, 1989 when the L-100-20 (mn 4129, N9205T) he was piloting in for a landing at the UNITA base of Jamba, Angola with a load of arms from Kamina AFB (DR Congo) crashed and burned killing all 5 on board, accident report says he was flying low to avoid MPLA radar detection, hit the tress near the runway and burst into flames, so his story of never being in Angola was false.
The aircraft destroyed was the former St. Lucia Airways L-100-20 (J6-SLO), small world in the Herc market and the CIA arms smuggling ring.
Seagreen Air Transport based in beautiful Antigua & Barbuda, was involved in arms smuggling, from another base in Ostend, Belgium, it flew many B707-320C’s (above left) as well as B727’s, Dc-3’s, DC-4’s and even the Convair-990. Its owner, American David Paul Tokoph had had several aviation interests and is connected to Dietrich Reinhardt from neighboring St. Lucia Airways, and both are connected to Colonel Oliver North as well, many of these “gun runners” that worked with the CIA are a close associates. Mr. Tokoph worked through his Aviation Consultants International out of Texas, bought Zambia Airways when it failed and Aero Zambia was born, now runs Interair in South Africa runs scheduled services in Central and Eastern Africa with B737’s and a B767.
Side note: The Convair CV-990 Coronado (above right), was a 149 passenger jet built between 1961 and 1963, and only 37 were built, it was fast at 540 kts and had a 3,100nm range powered by GE’s CJ-805-23 engines the commercial version of the GE J79 engine (“smokey”) that powered the F-104 Starfighter and F-4 Phantom, but no afterburner ! The aircraft struggled to compete with the B727 and the B720, and the GE engine did have higher fuel burns than the competing PW JT3C engines on Boeing aircraft. The CV-880 was 110 passenger version, built between 1959-1962 and built 65, it was fast as well at 535kts and a range of 2,900nm. The aircraft was “jinxed” it had 17 accidents and 5 hijackings and sadly only one is preserved to day, and that is Elvis Presley’s VIP CV-880 “Lisa Marie” at Graceland, the CV-990 finished off Convair as a major commercial airliner manufacturer.
Next, we have Seagreen Air Transport out of beautiful Antigua and Barbuda, owned by David Paul Tokoph, a US citizen who pops up as owner of several airlines around the world. Seagreen started of flying DC-3’s, DC-4’s on cargo throughout the Caribbean in the early 1970’s but later moved into numerous Boeing B707 freighters, as well as Convair 880’s and 990’s (A rare bird indeed).
I should point out, David P. Tokoph is connected to Dietrich Rienhardt of St. Lucia Airways, and Bud Tepper of Tepper Aviation and all well connected to Col. Oliver North and the CIA.
From Ostend, Belgium an airport well known as the jump off point for many arms shipments into Africa, Seagreen Air Transport as well as St. Lucia Airways, Tepper Aviation and dozens of other air operators flying arms to Africa had a base there under the nose of the Belgian authorities.
From Ostend, Seagreen was flying regular flights to down to then Zaire (now D.R. Congo) and then to Angola flying arms to the US backed UNITA forces.
This is Transafrik’s L-100-30 on Sao Tome e Principe registry (S9) (above left photo) ironically flying for the U.N. given its shady past. Formed in 1984 in a “flag of convenience” state, an airline that is secretive still today, based in Angola, L-100’s registered in Uganda and headquarters in Fujairah, UAE, or London, but like another infamous L-100 operator Safair, it has a new business model with better sustainability, working with the UN and WFP for the good of man kind actually does pay off, especially for the people of Africa. It still has the infamous distinction of being the only airline in the world to have 3 of its aircraft shot down ! and in Angola it wrote off 6 x L-100’s, says a lot about the dangerous work it does. One of the shot down L-100’s was the Bolivian Air Forces L-100-30 (registered CP-1564) (above right photo) on March 16, 1991 near Malande, Angola by a ground to air missile, SAM or Stinger ?
Transafrik was based out of Sao Tome e Principe for many years using their S9 registration, today it operates 2 x B727-200’s and 5 x L100-30’s on 5X-Ugandan registration. It has the infamous distinction of being the only airline in the world to have 3 of its aircraft shot down ! now that says novels about what kind of work it undertakes, no ?
The airline is based in Angola (www.transafrik.com), started in 2004, by German born Christian G. Hellinger to support mining operations in the Congo, the company is privately owned, the airline is not transparent, currently based in Angola, offices in Fujairah, UAE or London, hard to tell, Hercules registered in Uganda, this well known arms trafficker of the past is like Safair today, flies for the UN, Red Cross, WFP, Care International, and supports UN troops in Somolia (UNSCOM), Congo (MONUC) and Angola (Monua) and Cambodia.
It is a good business, cleaning up the mess you helped to create, but at least its gun running days are over, sad we reward those that helped create the misery of millions.
The arms trafficking was not limited to just Africa, though it is where the most recent problems over the past 40 years have been, from fights for independence in Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia to Guinea-Bissau, and later civil wars in Angola, Congo to recent wars over minerals in Liberia, Sierra Leone and genocide in Rwanda.
In fact the past 20 years, the war in D.R. Congo has been Africa’s “World War” involving many African countries, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Tchad, Nambia and Sudan, killed 2.5 million and another 3 million died from disease and starvation. The ‘gun runners’ in this war were many African airlines, later I will list some of them.
In Central America in the 1980’s you had arms trafficking from the US to Panama, Honduras and El Salvador to help the CIA created the “Contras” fight the leftist Sandanista regime in Nicargaua, even though Congress forbid the CIA in the Boland Amendments to help the Contras in any way, the war caused 42,000 dead in Nicaragua and
Well, we know the story, President Reagan bypassed Congress, and had Colonel Oliver North create ‘cash’ from sales of sensitive arms to Iran for hostages as well as arms to UNITA in Angola and sadly drugs imported into the US, it is all well documented many US Government investigations.
Southern Air Transport (SAT) L-100-30 (N920SJ) was shot down December 26, 1998 by a surface to air missile flying for non other than Transafrik, registration S9-CAO, little confusing with the changes to registrations, but as you have read here, the L-100 community is close, clandestine operations to UN flying they regularly lease L-100’s back and forth, or did as SAT is no longer in the L-100 business as it sold its fleet to Transafrik !
On October 5, 1986 a fake Panamanian registered C-123K crashed in Nicaragua with Russian arms on board for the Contras, the two US pilots were killed din the crash worked for Southern Air Transport (SAT), the load master was captured with documents which blew the lid of the illegal CIA operations, and the rest is history, and became the Iran-Contra Affair and undercover National Security Council “enterprise” run by Lt-Colonel Oliver North and his ‘fixer’ Maj-General Richard C. Secord.
The scheme was “concocted to sell armaments to embargoed Iran in exchange for US hostages and use the profits to fund right-wing opposition forces in Nicargaua”. sAs well, there was a connection with Safair, where its L-100 was used “once”.
Sadly, while arms went south, drugs went north, thanks to General Noriega of Panama who later was overthrown and invaded by US Marines, after he served his use to the CIA.
Here a few US air operators stand out, Arrow Air, Markair, F.A. Conner Airways, which supplemented SAT’s L-100’s and B707’s.
Many airlines were involved in the arms trafficking business in Central America in the 1980’s supporting the Contras illegally, Arrow Air was a big operator for the US military, transporting weapons and troops all over the world, one of their B707’s in photo above.
One interesting note during this period, is that it came out that arms shipments were being made to Iran back in 1981 for releasing the US hostages in Tehran, and on July 18th, 1981 a CL-44 cargo aircraft from Argentina’s Transporte Aereos Rioplatense (TAR) making its 4th trip to Tehran, was shot down near Yerevan, Armenia by the Russian Migs as the aircraft strayed into Russian airspace due to navigational error.
Today Southern Air is still in business, after several Chapter 11 filings (last one was Sept 2012), in one filing it sold its L-100 fleet to none other than Transafrik, small world in L-100 business ! and today the airline at last count had 4 x B777 freighters and 5 x B747-400 freighters.
Now clandestine airlines come in different forms, we have air operators today operating rendition aircraft for the US government, they are secret flights and questionable in legality.
Rendition aircraft are aircraft used by national governments to move prisoners internationally, a practice known as rendition, the illegal version of which is referred to as extraordinary rendition, in short prisoners are moved to countries where severe torture is allowed.
Air Bissau, the national airline of Guinea-Bissau was majority owned by the PLO between 1986 and 1992 when it operated 3 x F27-100’s (Above right) (registered J5-GBA) and several AN-24RV’s and captured the world headlines on April 7, 1992 when an AN-24RV (J5-GAE) of Air Bissau crashed on a flight from Khartoum, Sudan to Tunis, Tunisia somewhere near Ma’tam as-Sarra, Libya with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on board, and after 12 frantic hours the aircraft was found, Arafat survived but three crew men did not. When I got to the airline a year later the PLO was out and the airline had 1 x HS748-2A (registration J5-GAT) (above photo left) and 1 x DHC-6-300 Twin Otter on 3 routes, it closed its doors in 1998.
Also, there are others, for instance a very small national airline I once did some work for many years ago as an independent airline consultant Air Bissau (Guinea-Bissau) which when I was there in 1993 had 1 x DHC-6-300 Twin Otter and 1 x HS-748-2A (J5-GAT) serving 2 destinations in Senegal and 1 domestic. The airline was previously run by a former head of the Palestinian CAA Faiz Zaidan (there actually is a Palestinian Airlines which started in 1995, had 1 x B727-200 2 x Fokker F50’s, grounded 2005, then started in 2012 from El Arish, Sinai, but probably grounded again). Sadly the airline was shut down in 1998. Today, there is no airline based in Guinea-Bissau, which is surprising given that its J5 prefix and local AOC would be valuable as a ‘flag of convenience’ anyway it has become jumping of point for Colombian drugs to Europe, as they fly their aircraft all the way from Colombia and land/crash their planes on one of the many off shore islands.
Before, my time, between about 1986 to 1992 the airline was owned by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) which had 3 x F-27-100’s and a few Antonov AN-24RV’s in its fleet. The PLO at that time was based in Tunis, Tunisia and needed transportation, surely for arms, and transportation so its people did not have to travel through certain countries and deal with immigration and customs.
Now, Air Bissau or Transporte Aereos da Guine-Bissau until 1989, did have a accident on August 15, 1991 one of its F-27’s (J5-GBB) crashed near Dori, Burkina Faso on a flight from Kano, Nigeria to Bamako, Mali, 3 Palestinian pilots were killed.
More importantly, the airline had a second crash on April 7, 1992 a AN-24RV (J5-GAE) on a flight from Khartoum, Sudan to Tunis, Tunisia, with 13 on board it ran into a large sand storm and crashed near Ma’tam as-Sarra, Libya with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on board, the story was all over the world press. After 12 hours, the aircraft was found and Yasser Arafat was safe but 3 crewmen died. So an airline for the PLO existed, until 1995 when Palestinian Airlines was formed, but off course that was not going to last long
Maldives Airways, was the first airline in the Maldives with big equipment and was owned by the PLO between 1984 and 1986 while local Air Maldives operated a single Shorts SC7 Skyvan between Male and Gan. The airline was a front for the PLO to transport its people, supplies, arms and possibly drugs. It had 3 x DC-8-51’s (above photo) as well as 1 x F27-100 (later it went to Air Bissau). The airline operated some scheduled routes, but only Dubai had any real frequency or economic sense, it was still early in the Maldives tourist evolution. The airline survived only 2 years before the PLO pulled the plug on it, and eventually bought Air Bissau in Guinea-Bissau. I have uncovered more airline partnerships as the PLO was buying partnerships with many airlines and duty free stores around the world, with support from Libya and other Arab nations, as it made it easier for the PLO to move arms and people “inconspicuously”.
Even before owning Air Bissau, the PLO owned it also owned Maldives Airways between 1984-1986 which operated 3 x DC-6-55’s and 1 x Fokker F27-100. It was one of many holdings the PLO had for secret activities, like possible arms and drugs smuggling for the PLO. This was a boost locally as at that time the only aircraft in the Maldives was a Air Maldives Shorts SD7 Skyvan flying between Male and Gan Island. Anyway, after 2 years it was shut down in 1986 (its unique DC-8-55 were sold to Connie Kalitta Services-USA).
Maldives Airways was run by a local Mr. M. Ibrahim and flew schedule services to Colombo, Madras, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Kuwait and local Gan, but only 1 route had any frequency and that was to Dubai, but off course it did fly lots of charters, passenger and ‘freight’.
The PLO was buying partnerships in airlines in Africa, Latin America and other 3rd world countries in the mid-1980’s, with lots of support from Libya and some Arab nations. In 1979, the PLO gave Nicaragua’s national airline Aeronica a B727, and took a 25% shareholding, as well as partnering with Nigeria Airways, Air Zimbabwe and even Kenya Airways, while forming Maldives Airways and Caledonian Airlines (Lebanon) and buying Air Bissau. The PLO invested in airlines and duty free shops as it made it easier to move arms and people around inconspicuously.
Also, the PLO was looking for political support in the UN, it had observer status in the UN but needed votes in the General Assembly, so off course pro-Soviet nations were the primary target but then other ‘socialist’ countries around the world, why Nigeria and Kenya ? I do not know.
Beyond owning Maldives Airways and Air Bissau, the PLO had other airline partnerships in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Nicaragua’s national airline, Aeronica received a Boeing B727 (above photo left) from the PLO and the PLO apparently had a 25% ownership of the airline and something was up with Air Zimbabwe (above photo right) as well, plus possibly Nigerian Airways and Kenya Airways as well
Also, the PLO like many ‘shady’ organizations worked through the BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) a bank registered in Luxembourg, but headquarter sin Karachi, Pakistan (RED FLAG !), founded by Agha Hasasn Abedi in 1972, at its peak #7 largest private bank in the world with $20b in assets and 400 branches. It collapsed in the early 1990’s after investigation revealed that it was involved in massive money laundering and other financial crimes, this bank was the favorite of arms brokers, drug dealers and many other criminals, it did serve people who were legitimate businessmen and investors too, but it was banks like BCCI that made arms smuggling easier, because payments were easier to make, hide and launder.
Now, I want to briefly talk about the most infamous ‘gun runner’ of the past few years, Viktor Bout and his web of 30+ aviation companies with 30-50 aircraft using a flag of convenience from where ever he could get one, and flew every aircraft type imaginable, though mostly Russian and flew arms, diamonds, troops, UN peacekeepers, and reconstruction supplies, in short anything to anywhere for whoever !
Viktor Bout made millions as the world’s most efficient ‘postman’ by exploiting the cracks in the anarchy of the globalization when trade and finance barriers went down, great for legitimate businessman, and even better for illegal businessman. He developed a network of having everything under one roof, arms, brokers, logistics, transportation, finance, a ‘one-stop’ shop, he was called the “merchant of death”, which he was, but he was not the only one making a financial killing selling arms and ammunition to do the killing, no matter what side, in Afghanistan he supplied Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance (Massound was killed just a few hours before the attack on 9/11) and then to the Taliban’s reclusive leader Mullah Omar.
He delivered arms to Togo and Zaire (D.R. of Congo) who were friends of UNITA in Angola, and his Air Cess was the second largest shipper out of Sharjah after Lutfhansa and supplied anyone, it was his business, his use of flags of convenience was brilliant, he found a hole in the syetem, this was his ‘modus operandi” the ability to move aircraft ahead of government efforst to ground him. To fly internationally you need need to have your aircraft registered in a country where you have an air operators certificate that says you are fit to be a commercial operation and where maintenance and airworthiness is checked and certified, each country has a 1 to 3 letters painted on the aircraft which identifies which country the aircraft is registered in.
Bout would register many aircraft in Liberia (EL) a nation that sold its aircraft registry to business associates who helped Bout set up aviation and holding companies for his business of arms trafficking, it was run from Kent, England and the same group controlled the registry of Equatorial Guinea (3C), so when international pressure was put on Liberia to de-certify his aircraft, Bout’s aircraft were registered in Equatorial Guinea in hours, and the EL was replaced by 3C and his planes were good to fly.
Some of the worst ‘flags of convenience’ are:
Armenia (EK), Burkina Faso (XT), Central African Republic (TL), D.R. Congo (9Q), Equatorial Guinea (3C), Eritrea (E3), Kyrgyzstan (EX), Lesotho (7P), Libya (5A), Moldova (ER), Sao Tome e Principe (S9), Togo (5V),
While he was a wanted man by the US, his Antonov freighters were flying cargo into Baghdad helping Fed Ex, USAF, US Army and KBR a Haliburton subsidiary reconstruct Iraq. It was all a joke really, even flying into Bagram airport in Afghanistan. He was in the business to make money, no ideology, just greed and the knowledge that no one else would deliver the packages !
In the end Vikot Bout was caught in Thailand in 2008, extradited to the US in 2010 and in 2012 sentenced to 25 years in prison for planning to sell Iglas anti-aircraft missiles and other arms to FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia) to kill Americans, it was a sting operation by the DEA, so ended his story.
The world of ‘gun runners’ is real, and there is a dark side to aviation, I hope everyone reading this avoids, we all have choices, we ll have morals, but sadly some have greed beyond any morals.
Hope you learned something, till next time, bye and thank you for reading my very long article today (8,500+ words), sorry !