Evergreen Air Center at KMZJ sold


Staff member
Here where I am now. Formerly owned by CIA proprietary company Intermountain Aviation until 1975, and by Evergreen Aviation since then, it's been sold to a Virginia company. Operations here will remain the same, with the storage and maintenance......and other function.....continuing.

Its funny how many people don't realize the amount of history that's gone on at this base northwest of Tucson in and past number of decades. A history mostly shrouded in the secrecy of CIA air operations. Even today, this place has a "disconcerting" feel to it when on the base......as if things are going on that while not too obvious, are not too secret neither.

The history of KMZJ. This is a dated article written before 9/11, so it doesn't have KMZJs history of the mass amounts of aircraft brought in post-9/11. But although a long article, it's a GREAT read:

Seventeen miles north of Tucson, Ariz., motorists driving down Interstate 10 toward the city can look to their right and see a distant glimmer of airplanes.

It comes from Pinal Air Park, an old U.S. Air Force base. It was known as Marana Air Park when a CIA proprietary company called Intermountain Aviation Inc. began running it in October 1961. Nowadays it's run by Evergreen Air Center Inc., a subsidiary of Evergreen International Aviation Inc.
Over the years, some interesting planes have contributed to the glimmer:

*A Lockheed L-100, a civilian version of the C-130, being fancied up for Idi Amin Dada, the Ugandan dictator.
*A squadron of Lockheed T-33s, the training version of the F-80 jet fighter, being readied for the Colombian Air Force.
*A Douglas DC-3 cargo plane that was sold to people who later crashed it into the Caribbean Sea while they were being pursued by U.S. drug agents.
*A war-surplus Boeing B-17 bomber equipped with a device for snatching secret agents off the ground.
*A squadron of salvaged Martin B-26 bombers destined for the Argentine navy. The interesting thing about the list of planes is that, with the exception of the B-17 that came with the property, they were all at the air park long after the CIA sold Intermountain's interest to Evergreen Helicopters Inc. of McMinnville.

Why the CIA went to the trouble to move onto Marana Air Park in the first place, why it sold out to Evergreen Helicopters and what Evergreen has been doing at Marana for the past 13 years are all parts of the McMinnville company's unusual history.

World War II base

The 2,200-acre Marana property originally was built by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II for training fighter pilots -- one of them, coincidentally, a Portland man named Melvyn R. Paisley who is now a key figure in the Pentagon contract-rigging investigation.

The Air Force abandoned the base after the war, deeding it in 1948 to Pinal County, Ariz., for ``public purposes.'' The Air Force took it back briefly during the Korean War, then gave it back to the county, which rented it to a succession of small operators until the CIA showed up.

The spy agency gained control of the air park through people who approached Robert E. Roberts, president of Sonora Flying Service Inc. of Columbia, Calif., which had leased the property Nov. 7, 1960.

Roberts wasn't in the CIA. His company was in the aerial firefighting business, mostly for the U.S. Forest Service. It also was in the business of converting surplus military planes into aerial tankers for dropping retardants on forest fires.

Roberts, who now works in California as a mining engineer, said he had gotten involved with the CIA only because it wanted the air-park lease. The CIA valued Marana for approximately the same reasons Roberts did:

- It had large, well-equipped repair hangars that were perfect for modifying planes. It was isolated, and it was only a few minutes' flight time from the gigantic aircraft "boneyard'' at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

- Known then as the U.S. Department of Defense Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center, the Davis-Monthan boneyard was a paramilitary operator's dream, hundreds upon hundreds of used planes, crammed wingtip-to-wingtip as far as the eye could see in some directions. With Pentagon approval, they were free for the CIA's taking, the largest collection of spare military aircraft on Earth. One of Intermountain's missions would be pulling planes out of the boneyard and fixing them up for covert CIA operations overseas. In some cases, the agency had the planes completely dismantled and all identifying marks removed, even from internal engine parts, to make them untraceable to the U.S. government.

Creating a cover

Under Intermountain, Marana Air Park would develop one of the largest aircraft-overhaul depots in the United States. Conveniently for the CIA, Roberts' company already was creating a cover by getting people used to seeing old military planes flying in and out as they underwent tanker conversion.

"I think I already had 10 TBMs, four PBYs and eight B-25s and B-17s,'' Roberts said. "Some I got at Davis-Monthan. Some were scattered all over.'' The Grumman-designed TBMs were single-engine torpedo bombers. The Consolidated PBYs were twin-engine seaplanes, and the North American B-25s and Boeing B-17s were twin-engine and four-engine bombers, respectively.

The procession of obsolete military planes in and out of Marana raised no eyebrows. Neither did the arrival of Forest Service parachutists. Sonora's work with the Forest Service included *dropping smokejumpers, and only a few people in government were aware that the Forest Service smokejumper program cooperated closely with the CIA.

From the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s, the CIA actively recruited paramilitary personnel from the smokejumper program, particularly at the Forest Service's Region One fire base at Missoula, Mont., and a satellite base at McCall, Idaho. As many as one-fourth of the smokejumpers at those bases worked at least part time for the CIA.

According to Roberts, Intermountain divided its time between converting airplanes and developing new parachutes and parachute techniques for covert operations. Much of the parachute work involved dropping men and supplies into rugged, forested terrain -- exactly the kind of techniques the Forest Service had pioneered.

Forest Service link

Many experts who worked in Intermountain's parachute program were recruited or on loan from the Forest Service. In fact, the CIA official who first approached Roberts about Marana Air Park was an ex-smokejumper who had joined the spy agency in Missoula.

Garfield M. Thorsrud was one of five former Missoula smokejumpers who ended up running Intermountain. Dozens more would pass through the Intermountain base en route to destinations such as Laos and Cambodia.

Thorsrud and the others had parachuted many times from airplanes operated by Johnson Flying Service, a little Missoula airline that was a Forest Service firefighting contractor. Evergreen later would buy Johnson, about the same time it was buying Intermountain's assets from the CIA.

Roberts recalled Thorsrud's coming to see him about the air-base lease after Thorsrud had talked to an ex-smokejumper they both knew -- Andy Anderson, then with the Forest Service in Silver City, N.M.

"I don't remember exactly how it went,'' Roberts said. "They told me something about what they were doing and wanted me to help. I thought, 'Well, it's a pretty good cause.' But that's also how I got out of it, by looking in the inside of it. I got disenchanted with it pretty fast, and that's where I started to let them run the show. I went to mining in New Mexico. I still had the base (lease), though. I had it for 15 years.''

Intermountain's commercial cover story began with its articles of incorporation, filed in Phoenix on Sept. 26, 1961. Two prominent Phoenix lawyers, Orme Lewis and Robert J. Kelso, lent their names. Roberts was shown as president of Intermountain and also as president of Marana Air Park Inc., which was formed a few days later to hold the property lease. Roberts would appear to run Intermountain until Thorsrud, the actual boss, openly took over in 1965.

With only a few glitches, the CIA enterprise maintained a successful cover for nearly 14 years, holding itself out as a Forest Service contractor and civilian airplane-reconfiguration company. But it was the largest proprietary the CIA ever admitted operating inside the United States.

Unlike at the present-day Evergreen Air Center, there was never a guard on the gate when the CIA operated Marana. Visitors just drove in unchallenged and talked to whatever friendly Missoulian happened to saunter by.

Out in the open

The CIA's security doctrine for Intermountain was "hide in plain sight.'' Whatever couldn't be concealed was done right out in the open. In fact, it was essential to talk to the press in order to spread misleading information about activities that were impossible to hide.

On March 2, 1962, local news media were invited to Marana to watch a B-17 whisk a dummy off the ground on the end of a cable. Experiments with the Fulton Skyhook, as it was called, almost surely had been seen by outsiders. The plane had an easily visible Y-shaped prong on its nose, and it would fly along at 125 mph and grab a cable that had been hoisted into the air by a balloon. The dummy was then reeled into the plane like a fish.

Reporters accepted Intermountain's explanation that the system could come in handy for hoisting people or equipment out of inaccessible areas -- a true statement, as far as it went. The right slant was put on the explanation by arranging for the skyhook to be demonstrated in the presence of "90 forest fire experts,'' as a newspaper story noted the next day.

Later, Intermountain thought it desirable to explain to reporters its experiments with weird-looking parachutes. A maneuverable, bat-like "para-wing'' that might have been seen by local citizens was explained as a radio-controllable parachute "for pinpointing a drop zone so the firefighters won't have to chase cargo three miles down a canyon.''

Intermountain passed out other tall tales about its work with short-takeoff-and-landing, or STOL, aircraft. Such planes were widely used by the CIA in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and others have been used more recently in Central America.

"Strange-looking, long-snouted'' Fairchild Heli-Porters, of Swiss design, were explained in newspaper articles as being "perfect for canyon flying'' because they could "take off in 300 feet, ascend at more than a 45-degree angle while maintaining only 40 mph speed, make a midair turn on a dime and then land in 130 feet of space,'' one writer marveled. "One of the Porters is adapted for aerial mapping jobs with a glassbottom floor for mounting special cameras.''

Storage hallmark

Intermountain got into the civilian aircraft-storage business no later than October 1966. It was an activity that Evergreen would continue after it bought the base nine years later.

Among the first planes to arrive for storage were a dozen Convair 880 jetliners, their rent paid by billionaire Howard Hughes, who had bought them from Northeast Airlines in Miami. Stored aircraft became a hallmark of Marana Air Park.

So many planes passed through the CIA-controlled storage area that the activity soon became routine. And because so many of the planes were said to be surplus and for sale, it caused no particular comment when planes departed with color schemes and identification numbers different from the ones with which they had arrived.

The first local hint about Intermountain's true ownership came Aug. 15, 1970. The Tucson Daily Star, unable to get straight answers about an Intermountain plane that had crashed into a residential neighborhood, quoted "a top law enforcement official'' as saying Intermountain was part of the CIA.

An Intermountain official denounced the report as "ridiculous.''

"Rumors like this put us in a hell of a bind,'' said Jack Scanlon, Intermountain personnel director -- a true enough statement, as far as it went.

CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C., evaded the issue by denying something of which Intermountain hadn't been accused. "We don't engage in intelligence operations inside the continental U.S. -- that's a function of the FBI,'' a CIA spokesman said.

The answers were interpreted as denials. They weren't, exactly, but they did get the press off the CIA's back. Later, Intermountain was able to burnish its cover story by granting interviews depicting the company as a miracle of free enterprise. "Intermountain owes its continuous progress to diversification,'' the Tucson Daily Star informed its readers.

It quoted Edgar L. Mitchell, Intermountain's financial vice president, as saying that "early sales activities centered on maintenance services, but the more recent and pronounced growth is the result of increased flying activities.''

However, the CIA's problem in keeping the cover drawn over its proprietaries in the early 1970s wasn't due so much to the press as to the angry owners of small airlines that had been hurt or bankrupted by the agency.

Contracts dry up

Many non-scheduled airlines had made a living flying military cargo and passengers, and they saw their contracts dry up as the Pentagon diverted them to favored carriers that turned out to be owned by the CIA.

At first the CIA and the Pentagon tried to preserve secrecy by arranging contracts for companies that had enough information to blow the whistle. But with the lid about to pop, Richard Helms, then the director of central intelligence, ordered his agency in 1972 to get rid of several proprietaries, including Air America Inc., based on Taiwan; Southern Air Transport Inc. of Miami; and Intermountain Aviation.

In November 1973, the first piece of Intermountain -- an air-freight operation in Detroit -- went to Rosenbalm Aviation Inc., then of Medford. That December, the CIA sold Southern Air Transport to its longtime president, Stanley Williams.

In February 1974, Evergreen Helicopters Inc. signed an agreement to buy Johnson Flying Service and also hired as an executive a legendary veteran of the CIA's secret operations in Laos, Ernest C. Brace. Brace was well known not only in the CIA but also in the State Department and the Pentagon.

By November 1974, the CIA was in touch with Evergreen about taking Intermountain off its hands. Evergreen was the only company seriously considered for the purchase.

"Evergreen, at the time we dealt with them, was the largest fixed-base operator in the world,'' said Kelso, the former Intermountain lawyer. ``They were one of the few people we approached, with the idea that they could afford to buy what we had to sell.''

A deal on Marana was negotiated the next February, and the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board was signaling its intention to approve the transfer of Johnson's airline certificate to Evergreen.

On March 1, 1975, the assets of Intermountain Aviation Inc. and Intermountain Air Service Inc. were transferred to Evergreen Helicopters. Included in the deal was the remaining six years of Marana Air Park Inc.'s $49,500-a-year lease from Pinal County.

Smooth transition

The change to Evergreen ownership caused hardly a ripple. Thorsrud, who had run Intermountain more than 13 years for the CIA, stayed with Evergreen until the end of June 1975. In all, about 60 Intermountain employees remained on the Evergreen payroll for periods ranging from weeks to years after the change of ownership.

John D. Wall, who had been Intermountain's vice president, retired from Evergreen less than a year ago. Kenneth R. Rockwell, Intermountain's chief navigator and an expert on low-level photo-reconnaissance, is still with Evergreen. Rockwell remembered the McMinnville company's keeping Marana's aircraft-modification shops busy soon after the purchase.

"Argentina bought six B-26s from Davis-Monthan, and Evergreen fixed them up and got them ready to fly,'' Rockwell said. He also remembered Evergreen's "spiffing up 25 or 30 T-33s for the Colombian Air Force.''

Rockwell said he recalled reading later that an Argentine B-26 had strafed a Soviet trawler it had caught inside Argentine territorial waters. "I think the Argentines lost their B-26s, or what was left of them, during the Falklands War,'' he said.

Another Intermountain activity that Evergreen continued was the aircraft-storage business. At the time the CIA handed the base to Evergreen, some 35 planes were stored on the premises. Their owners included American and Continental airlines and the National Bank of Detroit.

Evergreen owner Delford M. Smith and other company officials quickly set to work building up the newly formed Evergreen International Airlines, which would rate from the old air base. Its creation was made possible by Evergreen's acquisition of Johnson Flying Service's airline operating certificate in October 1975. Evergreen was no longer just a helicopter company.

First military contract

In 1976, Evergreen hired George Arntzen Doole Jr., the man who had created and run the CIA's global air proprietary system, as a $20,000-a-year consultant. Within a year the new airline had its first military contract.

Jack R. Hughes, a former Johnson pilot and vice president who had joined Evergreen, had a hard time getting used to some of his new duties. One night, he was sent from Marana to Tucson to pick up payment for a DC-3, federal registration No. N43200, that Evergreen had just sold. Expecting to receive a $55,000 check, Hughes was surprised to find himself in a hotel room with several men who counted out $55,000 in cash onto a bedspread.

"I didn't think I was going to get out of there alive,'' Hughes said in an interview in Missoula, where he is now retired. "Later on I read about that plane running out of fuel over the Caribbean while it was being chased by the Navy or DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) or somebody like that.''

Interesting planes showed up regularly at Marana. One that came in for maintenance work was a private Boeing 727 jetliner owned by the Occidental Petroleum Co. and used by its chairman, Armand Hammer. The plane has made many trips to the Soviet Union, where Hammer had enjoyed a unique relationship with Kremlin leaders going all the way back to V.I. Lenin.

Another plane that rolled through Evergreen's shops was a Lockheed L-100 owned by Idi Amin Dada, the Ugandan president-for-life who later fled into exile accused of murdering more than 150,000 Ugandan citizens and of practicing cannibalism.

Amin had bought the four-engine transport from Page Airways, which in 1976 had begun sharing its Orlando, Fla., cargo terminal with Evergreen. The L-100 figured in a joint U.S.-Israeli intelligence operation against Amin in which Page Airways played a role, according to a deposition in federal court by a Page vice president.

The Securities and Exchange Commission had filed suit against Page in 1978, charging five of its officers with bribing foreign officials. However, the suit was dropped at the request of the CIA.

Charles Hanner, then a Page vice president, testified by deposition that he had been introduced to Amin by Hans Ziegler, a veteran agent of Mossad, the Israeli military intelligence service. Ziegler's Swiss company, Zimex Aviation, had sold a number of aircraft to Middle Eastern potentates and to Amin's friend Moammar Khadafy, the Libyan dictator.

The L-100 that went through Evergreen Air Center had been flown for Amin by crews that Page had hired from Southern Air Transport. During the flights, the American crews had been able to obtain details of some of Amin's most private conversations, including some with Khadafy. Whether the plane was electronically "bugged'' was never disclosed.

A. E. "Schnozz'' Mayer, Evergreen Air Center's customer representative, said he didn't remember exactly what was done to Amin's plane there, except that it involved interior work.

'Funny stuff'

One former Evergreen Air Center official who found the company fascinating was C. Roger Fulton, vice president for administration during most of 1980. Fulton was working for a Tucson shopping mall when Evergreen hired him to help run its business office. He said he had become convinced by a number of small, undramatic happenings that the air center was still involved in covert activities.

"It was a collection of funny stuff,'' Fulton said. He recalled, for example, being politely steered away from a meeting between George Doole and some of the old Intermountain hands.

"Doole was there three times when I was there,'' Fulton said. "The first time he showed up, he flew in on Del Smith's Learjet and looked like he'd been sleeping in that three-piece suit. All the guys trooped down on the flight line to meet him, piled in one of the vans and rode about two miles up the other end of the base to the restaurant for a luncheon meeting.

"I just naturally assumed that I was supposed to go along, since I was the No. 2 guy on the base,'' Fulton said. "I walked in, and I walked up to the door of the private dining room in the restaurant and Huffman stopped me.'' Jon Huffman was Evergreen Air Center president.

"He was real nice about it,'' Fulton said. "He said, 'That's OK, Rog, you know, you're new and they're talking about some old stuff. No use bothering your head about it. Why don't you go do a financial statement?' ''

Fulton laughed. "So I ate with the mechanics.''

In a separate interview, Huffman initially said he had met Doole only on visits to Washington, D.C., where Doole was doing his Evergreen consulting work. Later he recalled that he had also met Doole at Evergreen Air Center when Doole was there for board meetings. But he said he couldn't remember the incident Fulton had described.

"I think anybody who runs the air center will always be accused of some kind of covert operation,'' Huffman said.

Helicopters overhauled

Fulton said much of the air center's activity in 1980 had involved helicopters. "We were always refurbishing and renovating and selling helicopters to Central America,'' he said. "Once, before I left, they had a contract from a Central American company -- I can't remember the name of the company -- to renovate a dozen military helicopters.''

On occasion, Fulton said, junky-looking helicopters were flown over from the Davis-Monthan boneyard. "I remember three old Sikorsky choppers,'' Fulton said. "You know, those big old double-decker jobs from the Korean War. I would never go up in those things. But by the time our mechanics were done with them, they looked and flew brand new. And they flew them out of there -- I don't know where.''

Fulton recalled that air-center technicians had installed side-looking radar on three former U.S. Coast Guard patrol bombers that were being turned over to an Arab country. He also remembered gun brackets and portholes being installed in a military surplus "Flying Boxcar,'' a Fairchild C-119, in a way that a worker interpreted as a "Puff the Magic Dragon'' gunship configuration.

Fulton said he remembered the C-119 particularly because he had to go into the hangar and talk to the crew chief about problems that he -- Fulton -- was having matching parts charges with the job number on the plane.

Huffman, however, said Evergreen Air Center never had turned out a gunship. Fulton said that what had intrigued him about the air center more than anything else was the way it did business. He said he hadn't run into anything quite like it since his graduation in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Economics.

"I spent my whole time at Evergreen just scraping up money,'' he said. "I thought I was going to work for a $10 million manufacturing company, but it never had more than $300,000 worth of accounts receivable.

"I kept saying to them, 'If you guys know something I don't, now's the time to tell me. Because I've got $7,000 in the bank, and a $14,000 light bill's due tomorrow.' ''

Fulton said he was intrigued at such times to get telephone calls from the bank informing him that more money -- $500,000 on one occasion -- had been pumped into the air center's account. He said he assumed it was from one of the other Evergreen companies.

Evergreen at the time had just been refinanced by a consortium of insurance companies and banks.

Rivets to the rescue

Another source of revenue for the air center, Fulton said, was the Garrett Corp. Garrett was a division of Allied Signal Inc., a major defense contractor that was represented in Washington by Charles G. Botsford, a retired Air Force colonel from Portland who had spent most of his career working with the CIA. Botsford shared an office with Doole.

Fulton said the Garrett Corp. had given Evergreen a job testing an engine mounted in the nose of a military surplus Douglas A-26 Invader, a World War II-era twin-engine bomber. [that plane was based at KPHX for the longest time at the Garrett/Allied Signal facility, and was eventually retired and is on display at South Mountain High School -- MikeD]

"Whenever we were out of money and absolutely couldn't get a dime out of anybody, I mean everybody in the system was tapped out, Huffman would say, 'OK, I'll send a few guys out onto the A-26, and we'll drive a few rivets into her. Call Garrett and tell (an official there) you're going to bill him for a hundred grand, and they'll send you a check right away.' I did, and he did.''

Smith said he recalled the A-26 contract, and he said there were probably progress payments, but he didn't remember the name of the customer.

There were important changes at Marana in 1979 and 1980. Evergreen International Airlines packed up and moved to Newberg, en route to a new headquarters at McMinnville. About the same time, Gar Thorsrud moved back to Evergreen Air Center as a tenant, bringing with him Sierra Pacific Airlines, a non-scheduled carrier he had formed with some old associates from Intermountain. [Sierra Pacific Airlines is now based at I-10/Cortaro in Marana, not far from where I live; with it's two 737-200s based at the cargo ramp at KTUS -- MikeD]

Close to Sierra Pacific was a parachute club, Marana Sky Divers Inc., run by Tony Frost. Frost said he had been "around'' the base during the Intermountain era but had worked for another company.

In April 1981, another prospective neighbor was knocking on Evergreen's door. The Army National Guard announced it was going to locate an advanced training site for attack helicopters next to the air park.

The Western Army Aviation Training Center, which opened Oct. 25, 1986, would be headquarters for the Arizona National Guard's 551st Attack Helicopter Battalion and would train about 500 pilots annually in choppers, including Bell AH-1S Cobra gunships. The National Guard base would be accessible on the ground only by entering through the Evergreen Air Center gate.

New lease acquired

Pinal County on Aug. 18, 1982, gave Evergreen a new 25-year lease on Marana after carving off 280 acres on the northwest side to rent to the National Guard. Evergreen's annual payment under the new lease was to be $113,137 at a minimum.

It would be allowed to sublease parts of the air park to third parties, with 5 percent of the revenues going to Pinal County. In turn, Evergreen promised to maintain the 87 buildings and grounds and to bring the runway up to Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Within the next few years, Evergreen cut its overhead by lining up $1.9 million worth of subleases from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Forest Service. It also went to work on the air park's grounds and buildings with a convict labor force it got in March 1983 from the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Evergreen provided room and board and paid 85 cents an hour for labor for 30 long-term felons, some of whom had training in skilled construction trades. Evergreen gave the Corrections Department 50 cents an hour per man, which the men could spend as they wished, and paid 35 cents an hour into each man's prison savings account.

The Arizona AFL-CIO denounced the deal as "slave labor.'' Some 18 months later, the Corrections Department ended the program after a convicted killer escaped. The convict controversy was one of several that swirled around Evergreen Air Center about that time.

On April 2, 1983, shortly after the prisoners took up residence at Evergreen, one of 38 Navy SEAL commandos on a combined secret exercise with Army personnel plunged to his death from a helicopter there.

Clumsiness raises questions

The death might have been passed off as a skydiving accident, except for the clumsy military officials who tried to claim the body at a Tucson hospital. First they tried to get the hospital to release the body without notifying the coroner as the law required. Then they refused to identify the victim, claiming it was a matter of national security.

The hospital kicked them out and sent the body to the coroner until the Navy answered some questions. It finally identified the victim as Gary F. Hersey, 25, a machinery repairman 2nd class assigned to Special Warfare Group II at Little Creek, Va.

Military authorities wouldn't say why Navy and Army personnel were exercising together under civilian cover at a private air base. But Hersey was a member of the SEALs -- the Navy's Sea, Air and Land teams. SEAL Team 2, based at Little Creek, reportedly supplied personnel for the Delta Force, an anti-terrorist unit made up of special forces members from different branches of service.

Smith said Evergreen had no contract with the military for special forces training but otherwise refused to discuss the matter.

Evergreen Air Center's largest federal tenant is the western branch of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Administered by the Treasury Department, the center provides advanced training for federal, state and local law-enforcement people.

James C. Woolfenden, program manager, said 63 agencies took part last year, including the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Federal Aviation Administration's sky marshals -- and on down to local police departments.

He said about 3,000 students had gone through the center in 1987. Most trainees lived in base housing and faced a curriculum ranging from hand-to-hand combat in a former base chapel to run-and-shoot techniques on a combat firearms range financed in part by the Saudi Arabian government.

The sky marshals' particular treat was being able to practice blowing their way into airliners to rescue imaginary hostages, using explosives on derelict aircraft provided by Evergreen. The FAA paid Evergreen $75,000 in 1988 for a Douglas DC-8 hulk on which to practice. [The Diplomatic Security Service also used this DC-8 hulk to train VIP drivers on techniques to avoid ambushes while transporting VIPs to/from aircraft -- MikeD]

The Forest Service, decidedly a quieter tenant, paid Evergreen $80,000 last year for three buildings in which to run the National Advanced Resource Technology Center, a fire- and resource-management school that has been at the air park since Intermountain days.

Still a parking lot

Evergreen Air Center's storage program for aircraft is still its most visible activity. "We had 106 parked out here in 1983 and 1984, when fuel prices were high,'' said "Schnozz'' Mayer -- who, besides being the air center's customer representative, serves as an unofficial tour guide. "We've got about 40 right now, I believe.''

Putting two visitors into an Evergreen pickup, Mayer drove south across the airfield to a storage area. He let the truck idle along a desert lane past silent rows of planes.

Mayer, who insists on being called "Schnozz'' and has the nickname printed on his Evergreen business cards, joined the company from Intermountain. He makes no secret of it but offers no additional information. "I didn't know anything about that,'' he says, grinning and shaking his head.

Airplane owners, he said, decide to store, fly or scrap their planes for all sorts of reasons besides rising fuel prices. The planes are a commodity much like pork bellies or cocoa futures, with their value going up and down for a variety of arcane reasons, such as the cost of complying with anti-noise legislation.

"We've had planes get bought and sold three times without moving,'' he said.

As the pickup crunched along the lane, gutted-out DC-8 jetliners could be seen sharing the mesquite with ungainly twin-engine seaplanes, some apparently flyable, painted with the logo of Chalks International Airline Inc. of Miami.

One Evergreen DC-8, 801EV, had flown the exiled Shah of Iran. An unmarked C-130 military-surplus cargo plane gathered tumbleweeds against its squat belly, its storage fees being paid by the Valley National Bank of Phoenix, which had repossessed it from its former owners, Mayer said.

'A bit of history'

"Most of these birds ain't as bad off as they look,'' Mayer said, nodding at a Flying Tigers freighter that had caught his attention -- a Boeing 707 sitting in permanent pratfall amid the paloverde shrubs.

"This one was a good bird until it landed here and the left main landing gear collapsed and it skidded off the runway several years ago,'' Mayer said.

Will it ever fly again?

"I don't know. I heard the sky marshals want to drag it over to their place and use it to practice for hijackings,'' Mayer said.

"Most of the 707s that were parked here all went down to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to be integrated into the KC-135 spare-parts program,'' Mayer said, resuming the tour. KC-135s, military tanker versions of the 707, are used by the Air Force to refuel other planes in flight, as the U.S. F-111s based in England were refueled on their way to bomb Libya on April 14, 1986.

"Now, this orange aircraft here's a bit of history,'' Mayer said, pointing at a hulk resting in the brush. "This was an original DC-8-10, Serial Number 1. I think Delta and United both owned this airplane.''

Two gutted planes without landing gear clasped each other in the sagebrush like mating whales. "There's one or two of these about ready to be Budweiser cans,'' Mayer allowed.

On the west side of the field sat three airworthy-looking Navy-surplus Lockheed P2V Neptune twin-engine bombers with Evergreen logos on their tails. Mayer likes the P2V's -- he used to be a crewman on one. But these, he said, were forest-fire tankers.

Over on the north side of the base, taking advantage of the pavement there, were some better-looking planes, including two Air Ethiopia 707s with faded lions rampant on their sides. They sat not far from an unmarked Convair 580 propjet that was parked outside the operations office of Sierra Pacific Airlines, Gar Thorsrud's company. Another plane parked nearby was a brand-new, unmarked Boeing 737-300, still in its light-gray primer paint.

"Boeing still owns it,'' Mayer said. "I think somebody's going to take delivery of it, sooner or later. But it's been here about a month and a half.''

Bare-bones checks

Inside the George A. Doole Aviation Center, named for the legendary CIA man who had been an Evergreen consultant and later a board member, Evergreen crews were working on a gleaming Continental Airlines Douglas DC-9 and two of Evergreen's own 727s. At another shop a quarter-mile away, crews worked on flaps and other control surfaces, removing their metal skins and using dental mirrors to check for hidden corrosion in the underlying framework. Evergreen Air Center can, and does, strip planes right down to the bare bones, using X-ray and other techniques to assure airworthiness.

The price for storing a wide-body jet at the air center begins at $750 a month, Mayer said. Smaller planes, such as 707s, *cost around $400.

"Plus any labor that has to go in 'em,'' Mayer added. He explained that planes have to be prepared for storage and must be rolled a few feet once in a while to keep the tires and bearings from going flat.

That makes sense for planes that seem likely to fly again, but why would anyone spend hundreds of dollars per month storing something that looks suspiciously like a derelict?

"Lots of different reasons,'' Mayer said. Some customers don't seem in a great hurry to get their property back. "That old (Fairchild) F-27 we just passed back there is the Old Man and the Sea -- it's been here 18 years,'' he said.

Somebody has paid rent on a broken-down, unflyable twin-engine commuter plane every month for 18 years?


Whose is it?


Some of Evergreen's own stored aircraft have been known to raise eyebrows. A gigantic Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter has been sitting idle near the air center office going on three years, although it's a $7 million piece of equipment.

"They're expensive to run,'' Mayer said. "They'll run you about $9,000 an hour, portal to portal. We had three, actually, and they sold one; and then we had two, and one of 'em caught fire in Canada several years ago and burnt up. This one was used back East, in high lift on big buildings. Construction jobs, primarily.''

The presence of so many expensive aircraft is the reason given for the visibly high level of security at Evergreen Air Center. Visitors don't wander in casually. Guards in military-green uniforms with Evergreen patches on the shoulders control traffic through the entry gate. A candy-striped barrier like a railroad-crossing gate swings down to stop vehicles the guards don't recognize.
Visitors' identities are checked, their appointments verified with phone calls and passes are issued to dangle on rear-view mirrors and clip to lapels. Behind the neatly kept guard building is a dog run housing German shepherds that help patrol the area at night.
And, on the sale....

A Virginia-based private equity firm has agreed to acquire Evergreen Maintenance Center, a top-level aircraft maintenance center at Pinal Airpark.

Oregon-based Evergreen International Aviation Inc. agreed to sell Evergreen Maintenance Center Inc. for an undisclosed amount to Relativity Capital LP, which is based in Arlington, Va.

The new owners plan to continue operations, including heavy maintenance checks for Boeing 747 jumbo jets, and support the center’s long-term growth, said Joyce Johnson-Miller, Relativity co-founder and senior managing director.

Evergreen had 351 full-time equivalent employees at the start of 2011, according to the Star 200 survey of the region’s major employers.

According to Evergreen, the operation is the largest aircraft storage and maintenance facility in the world with, 20 million square feet of ramp area and storage area that accommodates over 400 aircraft.

The center has been a federally approved aircraft-maintenance center for more than 30 years and has been recognized with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Diamond Award for maintenance excellence, the company said.
And another article concerning stolen C-130s and P-3s for US Forest Service operations which happened in 1987, and resulted in the conviction of two persons in 1998. I'd followed this story almost from it's outset, as it was aviation related, firefighting related, and was happening in my homestate of Arizona. Very interesting. Oddly enough, Bumblebee flies one of the aircraft involved in this scheme back then.

Link here:

Really awesome read! Interesting they were doing all this covert work right under our noses! Makes you wonder why they even need secret bases anyways ;)
"A Virginia-based private equity firm". Another "CIA proprietary company"? New at 11!

I used to take my student to KMZJ for their cross country training. They loved it for obvious reasons but gained valuable knowledge about operating at a busy, uncontrolled airport.
"A Virginia-based private equity firm". Another "CIA proprietary company"? New at 11!

I used to take my student to KMZJ for their cross country training. They loved it for obvious reasons but gained valuable knowledge about operating at a busy, uncontrolled airport.

MZJ is busy? I mean, if it is, then Id hate to see what a non-busy field is like.......
Thanks for sharing, this is all really interesting. Hollywood would assuredly screw up the details, but I'd love to see a movie about all this.
Great article, MikeD. Loved it. When I was a controller at DM, we always assumed that Evergreen was just another in a long line of CIA fronts (Civil Air Transport, Air America, Southern Air, Intermountain Airlines, Pacific Corp./Airdale Corp., etc., etc., etc., ending in Tepper Aviation today). Whenever you drove by Marana (as it was known back then—see? even the airport's name occasionally would change), it was lined with razor wire (unusual back in those days) and armed guards (REALLY unusual). It was so obvious it was laughable.

Speaking of Tepper, before I retired, every now and again N2731G (formerly N2189M) would show up at KELP for weeks at a time doing some weird stuff out to the east of El Paso. Really bizarre flight profiles which I think I'd better not mention, but it was fun tracking them on radar when we weren't busy.