Capt. Ronald J. Sutphin

Covert Skies

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Ron Sutphin enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1947. His initial tour of duty was in Tsingtao (Qingdao), China as one of the very last of the China Marines. There he was assigned guard duty at an airbase including Civil Air Transport (CAT) pilots and their aircraft. CAT was originally a Nationalist Chinese airline created to airlift food and other supplies into war‑torn China. CAT was sold to the US government in 1950 and was managed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It supported United States covert operations throughout Southeast Asia. Ron hoped that he would someday fly with CAT. Becoming a commercial pilot was his goal, but the military offered the training he needed through Naval Cadets at NAS Pensacola. Becoming a Marine pilot also offered aerial combat experience which provided adventure that Ron craved.

Ron started in the naval aviation cadet program in 1951. He flew combat missions during the Korean War. While he continued to fly in the naval reserve, the G.I. Bill paid for his commercial pilot training. He was hired as a navigator for Pan American but then met Seaboard Chief Pilot Paul Mlinar who hired Ron as a pilot. Ron flew for Seaboard in 1955 and 1956 on DC‑4s and Super Constellations. He also flew the C‑46 when it was wet‑leased to Luxembourg Airlines.

Flying unpressurized DC-4s across the ocean and carrying planeloads of monkeys from India to the U.S. however, did not satisfy Ron's desire for adventure. He finally got the job he really wanted, flying for CAT in Laos. In 1959, CAT changed its name to Air America. Ron flew for CAT/Air America from 1957 to 1968 and got plenty of adventure. One adventure was getting shot at while flying a DC‑3 and landing with 231 bullet holes. Another was getting shot down in Laos and spending two weeks in the jungle, evading capture, and existing on little food. That adventure made him sick.

Ron's memoir covers fifteen years, from 1947 when he joined the Marine Corps to 1962 when he was in Laos. He died in 2007 at age 76 when he crashed his Piper Super Cub while herding cattle on his ranch in Oregon. CS Norwood, one of Ron's nine sisters, acquired the manuscript and spent several years doing exhaustive research and meticulous editing. The bibliography is more than nine pages long. This is the account of a pilot who had an unusually adventurous career and life.

The cover art (Helio B-835 over the Mekong) is by Ron's sister Sylvia Lynne Malvoso. The book is available as a paperback and for Kindle from