‘Panama Airways Ltd’

A Curtiss Commando The Jewish population’s representatives gain control of ‘Panama Airways Ltd.’


Following the debate over the Remez-Shechtman plan, which led to the decision to establish Sherut Ha’avir, David Ben Gurion sent Yehudah Arazi to the US, to be in charge of purchase activity there. Upon arrival in the US, he met with Al Schwimmer, a Jewish aeronautics engineer, who had served in the US Army’s air corps in WW2 and now devoted his energies to the procurement effort for the Jews of Eretz Yisrael.

The two men began implementing a plan for the aerial transport of weapons from the US to Europe, and from there to British Palestine. Schwimmer looked at planes that the US military offered to sell as surplus, and purchased three four-engine Constellation transports and five twin engine Commando C-46s. The planes were sent to a crew of mechanics hired by Schwimmer, for renovation.

At this point, the US State Department announced an embargo on the export of weapons and all kinds of military equipment to the Arab countries and Jewish Palestine, because of the military crisis in the region. The FBI tightened its surveillance of Jewish arms purchasers in the US accordingly. In order to bypass these obstacles, the purchase delegations made use of the Sherut Netivey Avir, a company owned by Irwin Schindler, who had been an American pilot in WW2. The planes Schwimmer bought were transferred to the ownership of this company, which disguised its true purpose by obtaining contracts for carrying sheep and cattle to Latin America.

Now, however, this operation encountered difficulties from another direction: the US Civil Aviation Authority was unwilling to approve the changes and refitting carried out by Schwimmer’s people, and demanded that costly safety improvements be made in the engines. To avoid this delay, ownership of the planes was transferred to LAPSA – Panamanian Airways – which was formally registered as Panama’s official carrier but suffered from severe fiscal problems. Thus, the embargo, the FBI, and the Civil Aviation Authority were all successfully circumvented.