Tepper Aviation, Inc.
the CIA's covert airline
Tepper Aviation, Inc. is based at the Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Florida. The company has a long association with the CIA. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was widely reported to be flying weapons into Angola to arm the UNITA rebels. More recently, it has been linked with the practice of extraordinary rendition.
Tepper appears to have close links with Crestview Aerospace Corporation: it shares the same address, and Charles R. Shanklin is a director of both companies. Additionally, Tepper director Jack E. Owen was President of Crestview Aerospace until 2001.
It seems probable - although it's not yet proven - that Tepper has recently started operating a new Hercules aircraft, with the registration N3867X.
Recent destinations for Tepper airplanes
Tepper Aviation's logo, as seen on the tail fin of N8183J-N2679C in many photos taken by plane spotters.
According to flight records, N2189M has visited the CIA's Camp Peary training facility at least twice, in late April and in mid-May 2006. That aircraft also visits the Caribbean: it was seen in Puerto Rico in February 2006, and flew to Barbados in late May of that year. And in February 2006, N8183J flew from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to Mactan Cebu airport in the Phillipines.
According to information previously published by aerospace journalist Keith Stein's ISI Consulting website, in 2002 both aircraft visited the Department of Energy's Desert Rock Airport in Nevada, an airstrip at a disused nuclear weapons testing facility.
The Swiss newspaper Blick has speculated that, given the large number of movements of CIA-linked aircraft in and out of this supposedly disused facility, Desert Rock has been used at some point as a secret prison or "black site". It is not known whether Blick's source was Stein's website or if it obtained the information independently.
Running guns to UNITA for the CIA
The first report of Tepper's involvement in Angola was in early 1989, in the UK Independent newspaper:
- "The CIA has appointed a new airline to ferry weaponry to the US and South African-backed Unita guerrillas fighting the Marxist government in Angola. The CIA's previous airline for this task was forced to close after media revelations. Tepper Aviation, based in Crestview, Florida, operates a Hercules freighter aircraft which, according to former employees, has flown between the Kamina air base in southern Zaire and Unita- held territory in eastern Angola. Tepper was set up in late 1980, after the demise of the CIA's previous carrier, St. Lucia Airways, whose activities, in addition to the Angolan work, included the transport of Colonel North and weapons to Iran... Bud Peddy, who heads Tepper, categorically denies that the Hercules has been in Zaire or Angola." 
The categorical denial by Tepper's chief was somewhat undermined by his own death just months later in an aircrash in Angola, as reported by Flight International:
- "The Lockheed L-100 Hercules which crashed while on a US Central Intelligence Agency mission in Angola late last month was owned and operated by Tepper Aviation, a Florida-based company with a history of involvement with CIA operations. Bud Peddy, the head of Tepper Aviation, was piloting the aircraft and was killed in the crash along with, at least two West Germans, a Briton and a second American. The aircraft, painted grey and known as the 'Grey Ghost', came down at night on 27 November as it was coming in to land at Jamba, the main base of the UNITA guerrillas fighting Angola's Marxist Government. The aircraft was carrying a cargo of weapons, plus several guerrillas, as well as the Europeans and Americans." 
The plane in question was N9205T. The head of Tepper at the time was in fact named Pharies 'Bud' Petty (both The Independent and Flight International managed to get this wrong). "The Book of Honor" by Ted Gup describes the ill-fated mission in some detail:
- "The lumbering cargo plane that would take him into Angola was to be one of the 'Gray Ghosts,' so named for their slate-colored paint. The plane had four seats in the front -- for a pilot, copilot, navigator, and loadmaster. The fuselage was largely open for cargo. On board that night was a seasoned crew of six. Even by Agency standards, it had a distinctly international flavor. Heading the team was Pharies 'Bud' Petty, a veteran Agency pilot who, at least on paper, presided over a Florida firm called Tepper Aviation, located in Crestview, just off Eglin Air Force Base. The other crew members were all ostensibly employees of Tepper."
Aircraft operated by Tepper
- N2731G (previously N2189M)
- N2679C (previously N8183J)
- N3796B (previously N4557C)
- N9205T (crashed November 27, 1989) 
Although it's not proven, it appears likely that the recently re-registered N3867X is also operated by Tepper.
Is Tepper still operating the above planes?
In late 2006 and early 2007, the three most well-known Tepper aeroplanes were re-registered under new tail numbers, and with new paper owners. The planes were also blocked (at the request of the new owners) from the flightaware internet flight tracking service. However, it appears extremely likely that Tepper is still operating all three planes. Here's some evidence for that assertion:
- N2679C was photographed in November 2006 with its new tail number on its fuselage, and the Tepper Aviation logo on its tail.
- All three new 'owners', plus the owner of N3867X, share the same registered agent: Cooch And Taylor ("a professional association").
- The paper owners for N2731G (JJS&D LLC) and N2679C (Q2P LLC) were registered on the same day: May 3, 2006.
- An aviation photography enthusiast who was allowed by the crew of N2731G to photograph the flight deck reports this conversation with them: "A request to take of [sic] photo of the cargo hold area - 'Is it okay to take a shot here? I guess there's nothing sensitive?' - was declined with, 'Better off not to, there's some diplomatic material onboard.'"
Aircraft owned by Tepper
Known officers and directors
From the Florida state government's website. Note that Tepper's company records prior to 1996 are not available online. Also note that "Jack Owen" was misspelt on filings before 2001 as "Jack Owens".
|Name||Director||Vice President||President||Registered Agent||Sec/Treas|
|Thomas M. Bledsoe||1996-2000|
|D. Michael Chesser||2005-2006|
|Scott L. Eder||1998-2000|
|John M. Herms||1996-1997|
|Jose L. Hernandez||2006|
|Jayna L. Hill||2001-2006|
|Bruce R. Lehfeldt||1995-1997||1995-1997|
|Jack E. Owen||1996-2006|
|Bobby L. Owens||1996-2005||2006|
|Gracie T. Petty||1997-2006|
|Dale E. Rice||1996-1998||1996-2004|
|Charles R. Shanklin||2001-2006|
Note: L-3 Crestview Aerospace is located at Crestview Air Park - Bob Sikes Airport, Crestview, Okaloosa County, Florida. 
- Air America
- Camp Peary ("The Farm")
- Central Intelligence Agency
- Crestview Aerospace Corporation
- Desert Rock Airport
- Jack E. Owen
- Pharies 'Bud' Petty
- Planes alleged to have been used for extraordinary rendition
- Rapid Air Trans, Inc.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Company records for Tepper Aviation, accessed June 23, 2007. (PDF version from May 20, 2006).
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Alan George, "Airline 'carrying CIA guns to Unita'", The Independent (UK), February 18, 1989. Available via Lexis-Nexis.
- ↑ Company records for Crestview Aerospace Corp, accessed May 18, 2006. (PDF version).
- ↑ Uniform Business Report for Crestview Aerospace Corp (TIF image), February 7, 2001. (PDF version)
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Tracking data for N2189M, flightaware.com (screengrab). Undated, accessed June 5, 2006. Registration req'd to view historical data.
- ↑ "Desert Rock, Nevada", published by aerospace journalist Keith Stein's ISI Consulting website. Now only available from the Google cache (dated June 11, 2005). (173KB PDF copy)
- ↑ Henry Habegger and Beat Kraushaar, "CIA-Jets: Stelldichein in Camp Atom", Blick (Switzerland), March 8, 2006. Machine translation by Google.
- ↑ "Angolan CIA Hercules air crash kills Tepper Aviation chief", Flight International, December 13, 1989. Available via Lexis-Nexis.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Accident description for N9205T, Aviation Safety Network. Undated, accessed May 18, 2006.
- ↑ Ted Gup, "The Book of Honor : Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA", pages 326-345 (search within the book). ISBN:0385495412. Gives a detailed account of the crash of N9205T.
- ↑ Ted Gup, "The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA", all pages which mention Gracie T. Petty.
- ↑ FAA records for N2731G. Undated, accessed July 9, 2007.
- ↑ FAA records for N2679C. Undated, accessed July 9, 2007.
- ↑ FAA records for N3796B. Undated, accessed July 9, 2007.
- ↑ Tracking data for N2731G, flightaware.com. Registration req'd to view historical data.. Now blocked. Undated, accessed July 10, 2007.
- ↑ Tracking data for N2679C, flightaware.com. Registration req'd to view historical data.. Now blocked. Undated, accessed July 10, 2007.
- ↑ Tracking data for N3796B, flightaware.com. Registration req'd to view historical data.. Now blocked. Undated, accessed July 10, 2007.
- ↑ João Henrique Moraes de Oliveira (photographer), Side view of N2679C at Manaus - Eduardo Gomes airport, Brazil, November 9, 2006.
- ↑ 19.0 19.1 Business Search, State of Delaware. Undated, accessed July 9, 2007. Unfortunately, search results cannot be bookmarked.
- ↑ 'Kaptin M', Message board posting, PIREP.org (pilot reports site), Sat Jun 23, 2007, 12:07pm.
- ↑ FAA records for N1018H. Undated, accessed July 9, 2007.
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 Listing for Tepper Aviation, Aviation Maintenance Repair Center Directory. Undated, accessed May 20, 2006.
- George Wright, "The Destruction of a Nation: United States Policy Toward Angola Since 1945", page 151. ISBN: 074531029X. Mentions Tepper's activities in Angola.
- Peter C. Smith, "Lockheed C-130 Hercules: The World's Favourite Military Transport". ISBN:1840371978. Publisher: Airlife Pub Ltd, November 2001. Mentions Tepper.
- "CIA resumes Angola covert flights", Flight International, March 21, 1990. Available via Lexis-Nexis.
- Alan George, "US weapons boost Angolan rebels", The Guardian (UK), June 25, 1990. Available via Lexis-Nexis.
- "USA step up Unita supply", Flight International, June 27, 1990. Available via Lexis-Nexis.
- "Tepper Aviation plans US internal cargo services", Flight International, March 4, 1992. Available via Lexis-Nexis.
- Richard K. Kolb, "Into the Heart of Darkness. Cold War Africa: Part 2, Angola", VFW Magazine (Veterans of Foreign Wars), May 1999. Via archive.org. Mentions Tepper's role in Angola.
- Scott Shane, Stephen Grey and Margot Williams, "CIA Expanding Terror Battle under Guise of Charter Flights," New York Times (truthout), May 31, 2005.
Note: articles referenced via Lexis Nexis require a payment of US$3 each (but not a subscription) in order to view the full article.