In 1977, Lord Waterpark, our distributor in England started making inquires about converting the long range Model 36 to a cargo aircraft. My response was due to the small cabin volume, it was not a very good choice.
Undaunted, Lord Waterpark scheduled a visit to the Wichita and brought with him two individuals from a company in Providence, Rhode Island. We toured the factory and sat down for a technical discussion. It was a difficult meeting because the project was shrouded in secrecy.
If they wanted a proposal from the factory on a method to secure cargo, I would need cargo density. Reluctantly, they told me it would be roughly a thousand pounds per cubic foot. I excused myself and went to my office to check a reference book. There were only three common metals that had that kind of density, gold, platinum and uranium.
I returned to the conference room. In my absence they had decided to be a little more forthcoming. In the course of the afternoon, they revealed their plans. The world is just coming out of the fuel shortage of the mid-70's. Crude prices have soared from their previous levels, the Saudis are awash in cash and intend to buy gold. Lots of it.
Lord Waterpark's company will operate the aircraft and fly several times per week between South Africa to Saudi Arabia. The Rhode Island company will handle the gold at each end. An important task included the electronic finger printing of each bar before it travels North and when it arrives in the Saudi to make sure the flight crews were not scrapping shavings off the cargo.
I was scheduled to leave for a conference on remote sensing in the Philippines in a few days but took time to visit the library to learn a little more about gold. On the long flight to Manilla, I had a chance to ponder the research. South Africa only produces 200-300 tons of gold per year. The Saudis were going to corner the market in gold.
It would be a heck of a good investment for them. If they could accumulate several hundred tons of gold, every ton more would boost the market price and increase the value of their inventory of gold.
The Treasury Department sent a technical analyst to the Philippine conference to keep up to date on technology that would be useful in the war on drugs. After one of the technical sessions, we had a few minutes alone so I broached the subject. While he said it would be of interest to his department, it was not something Treasury could act on. He asked if I had any contacts within the CIA and if so, relay the information to them.
In fact, I had a visit scheduled from the Kansas City CIA office when I returned to Wichita. We talked only briefly about the remote sensing conference but his interest piqued at the mention of the Saudi gold connection. He photocopied every page from my file and took meticulous notes from my narration.
Except for one small detail, it was the last I ever heard about the project. On his next visit, the Kansas City agent said his report was included in the next mornings president's daily briefing. What actions were taken and by whom will probably never be known.