Lee Gossett is a legendary pilot with Air America who has served in nearly every hot spot around the globe over the second half of the 20th century. He got his start while still in high school, working as a smokejumper with the US Forest Service over the summer months. Lee learned to parachute into heavy canopy and rocky terrain, link up with his fellow smokejumpers on the ground, make contact with the circling aircraft overhead, and then head deeper into the woods to fight the encroaching blaze.
This hardy mentality served him well a few years later when he earned his pilot’s license and was subsequently recruited to fly with Air America during the secret war in Laos. Lee spent six and a half years in Laos, flying some of the most difficult and dangerous missions imaginable in a wide variety of airframes. He came to know and love the Hmong people and culture indigenous to Laos. While there he purchased dozens of antiquated, locally produced muskets, trading Citizen brand wristwatches for them.
Once his time was up in Laos, Lee moved on to fly in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and Central America. He always found himself in the thick of global intrigue and covert operations.
For episode 13 of the Spycraft 101 podcast I spoke with Lee about his incredible experiences all over the world. The lives he impacted, the missions he flew, and the danger he faced.
Lee’s book, Smokejumper to Global Pilot – A True Odyssey is also a must-read for any fans of the world of clandestine aviation.