It was the early 1970's and the company had sold three Model 25's to the Ecuadorian Air Force. The airplanes were nearing completion. A telex was sent to the FAE with schedules for pilot and maintenance training.
Word came back that the Air Force was concerned about certain aspects of the aircraft's performance. I was dispatched to resolve the problems.
I flew to Guayaquil and met Russell Crawford our local representative. His late father had established a small fixed base operation in Ecuador; he was also the Beech dealer and had a number of fumigation (spray) planes. Russ with his step-mother, now ran the operation. In his youth, Russ had lived with his mother in Los Angeles during the school year; in Ecuador with his father and step-mother during the summer months.
Russ was not able to shed much light on the difficulty other than to say we had a meeting with the Minister of Defense at 10 am the next morning. We caught an afternoon flight to Quito.
We arranged for a taxi to drive us to the Military Headquarters which was in an old colonial fort about ten miles out of town. Even though Quito is just a few miles from the equator, the elevation is 9,000 ft., so it was cool and foggy. The vegetation was a lush dark green which only accented the white washed walls of the fort which soon came into view.
The walls on the inside were as white as they were outside, We walked across the parade ground and I glanced around to see if there was a wall used to line up prisoners before they were shot. Seeing none, I felt a little better.
They kept us waiting about 30 minutes before being escorted under guard to a rather large wood paneled room. There were three long tables set up in a "U" shape. Behind the tables sat a dozen officers, each heavily weighted down with medals, ribbons and gold braid. Two chairs sat facing the tribunal, behind the podium stood the 5 ft 2 in Minister of Defense in a brown suit that was made for a man a half-foot taller. We took our chairs.
The Minister read a prepared charge stating that when the factory pilot flew the president, he flew the airplane in an illegal manner thereby endangering the life of the president. He then asked me what I had to say about that.
What I wanted to say was that me and Russ didn't have anything to do with any of this, we were in our early thirties and had our whole lives ahead of us and please let us go home. Instead, I stuttered and stammered and finally told the group I would need the technical details of the charge before I could give them a response.
The Minister ordered that we meet with Col Pazminio, he was their expert, he had recently completed an aeronautical course in Brazil. It was the Colonel's position that when Jim Bir flew the President, the runway was too short based on the charts from the FAA approved Flight Manual.
My response was that the Flight Manual is intended for civilian use and assumes the loss of an engine on takeoff. Since the demo was for the Air Force, military rules applied and that both engines would produce 100% thrust and therefore shorter runways could be used.
The three of us returned to the tribunal, Pazminio presented his case and our case. The Minister was not impressed, he escalated the charges to attempted assassination. I told him I would need to consult with the factory and he dismissed us.
My boss was in France at the Paris Air Show. I sent him a cable and told him this was bigger than me and that he should get here as soon as possible. He arrived three days later.
We went to the U.S. Embassy and asked for help. They refused to get involved but gave us the name of a well connected lawyer. We were in his office an hour later. He listened to the story and said he would try to help, but it might get expensive, perhaps as much as $50,000. He was given the go-ahead and we were to come back the next day after lunch.
We returned the next day quite confident and feeling good about saving a $5 million contract with only a $50,000 investment. The lawyer soon burst our balloon. He said problem was bigger than he could manage for any amount and he would be grateful if we would leave his office as soon as possible.
By then we began to get a picture of what had happened. When the contracts were signed, the commanding general of the Air Force and his cronies were getting kick-backs on the transaction. Before we could get the airplanes built, the general was killed in a training mission. The new general was now looking at the transaction, $5 million was being spent from his budget and he was not going to get even a dime, so he pulled the plug.
The beaten Learjet team went back to the Minister. He was told if the government wanted to cancel the contract we would agree but keep their deposit. He said no, he was going to cancel the contract and demand damages. After much discussion, the contract was cancelled, the deposit would be returned. My boss would remain in the country until the money was transferred.
I knew the Bolivian Air Force was looking for a quick deliveries on photo mapping aircraft, so I took the first airplane South and went to La Paz and wrote a contract for two of the airplanes.