Neil Hansen began his aviation career as a pilot for Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. He spent more than a decade in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War era as a captain for Air America, the CIA's airline that operated there during the Vietnam era and the 'Secret War' in Laos. Neil reveled in the risky flying that fed his adrenaline addiction. Upon returning to the States, ultimately unable to find work and unable to let go of the Air America exhilaration rush, he saw the profession he loved come to an end when his trajectory veered off course.
Neil Hansen's engrossing memoir FLIGHT avoids the standard pilot cliches -- there is nothing stereotypical about the exciting "war stories" deftly recounted in this book. Hansen's riveting prose describes his adventures as an Air America civilian pilot for the CIA's clandestine Southeast Asia airline during the 1950--76 "secret air war" in Laos and Cambodia -- officially neutral countries, but the scene of countless U.S. covert operations. There is "an allure so mystical it borders on madness for those who play the game of war with abandon," he writes. "Machismo propelled those whose existence was spurred by the bursts of excitement that pushed life to its apex." Hansen flew for Air America from 1964 to 1975, logging 29,000 hours (9,000 of those dodging anti-aircraft fire in the secret combat zone). He was nicknamed "Weird" by fellow pilots for his bizarre behavior (although in the cockpit Hansen was "all business, all the time"), and his irreverent memoir certainly validates that sobriquet. Co-authored by veteran aviation writer Luann Grosscup, FLIGHT offers readers Weird's detailed page turning account of flying undercover "spook" missions with "a motley crew of aviators in Southeast Asia. "FLIGHT also recounts Hansen's "descent" as he struggled to return to "normalcy" in the States. He couldn't cope with the sudden lack of his daily adrenaline fix. "I didn't learn about the idea of adrenaline addiction until much later, when the damage had already been done." FLIGHT is a wonderful slice-of-life book, filled with dark humor that allows us to psychologically endure bad things that happen, mundane and boring bits we put up with, and the moments of stark terror that confront us. Some 240 Air America pilots and crews died in the secret war in Indochina. Hansen's memoir is a tribute to all those civilians who fought on the war's "spook side" in now-forgotten places our government prefers to ignore.