If it hadn't been for a throw away line from Sir John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce the imminent meeting of the Conquistadores del Cielo might have taken place under its customary cloak of secrecy.
But Sir John, one of the lowest profile personalities in aerospace, uncharacteristically mentioned his industry's most publicity shy gathering of leaders in an interview in a British newspaper.
Now the little town of Encampment, Wyoming is braced for the arrival of the much feared British paparazzo, intent on recording the goings-on at the sprawling 140,000 acre A-Bar-A dude ranch.
Will they turn up? No one is really sure, but the self styled "conquerors of the sky" will, and they have much to be quiet about this year.
They are going broke.
In terms of collective losses the major airlines are down more than US$10 billion this year and there are decidedly mixed results for the makers of jets, whether civil or military or private, and jet engines, where Sir John's enterprise has dazzled the market with profits his competitors would envy.
Macho, macho men
The macho men of the Conquista-dores del Cielo rarely break their vows of silence. Outside the US, where airline and aerospace chief executive officers declare their membership to investors, it is almost impossible to get other airways' partners to acknowledge their participation.
Perhaps it is embarrassment at the thought of being exposed in pink frocks on horse back, or dressed up like the Village People singing the order's song:
"We're Conquistadores, gay Conquistadores; We're birds of a very fine feather, We're happy amigos."
The evidence of such shenanigans is archived in a little known collection of the society's papers in the Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
In an exceedingly rare interview on the meetings published by Fortune magazine, Gordon Bethune, chairman of Continental Airlines, says "It's a boy's club. You fly fish, play tennis. They do rodeos, ride horses, drink too much, ride horses, drink too much. Did I mention drinking? It's kind of fun."
Conquistadores del Cielo was founded in 1937, and its ranks include the top brass in the US Air Force, men who have walked on the moon and living heroes from the ranks of test pilots and combat veterans.
Until a few years ago it had been assumed it was essentially a trans-Atlantic club. Not only did it not admit women but, conspicuously, there was no evidence of much representation from Asia, Africa, or the former eastern bloc.
However, in September last year the chairman of Korean Air, Cho Yang-ho broke all the rules by issuing a press release saying he was attending.
In fact he said the participants "will discuss recent trends and developments in the international aviation industry at the meeting."
This misunderstanding of the purely social agenda of the Conquistadores did not go down especially well in the US industry.
American Conquistadores are mindful of avoiding any conceivable hint that they might turn a perfectly brotherly bonding session of fishing, hunting, drinking, singing, drinking and horse riding under frontier skies into anything that could remotely offend any of the provisions of the Sherman anti-trust act, or several library shelves of related law on anti-competitive activity.
It is a mere 18 years since the Paul Thayer "scandal."
Thayer, a long standing member, was the first pilot to break the sound barrier in a production US Navy fighter, and survivor of seven crashes, four in combat and three as a test pilot. But according to documents filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 1984, it is alleged that he discussed at Conquistadores 1982 a takeover battle for Bendix Corp which was eventually won by Allied Corp, of which he was a director.
The pentagon connection
Thayer subsequently became former president Ronald Reagan's No. 2 man in the Pentagon as deputy defense secretary, but was forced to resign in 1984 in advance of a threatened prosecution for insider trading.
In 1985 he began serving 19 months of a four-year sentence negotiated through plea bargaining. According to the documents, two Conquistadores who attended the 1982 meeting and were members of companies who unsuccessfully tried to buy Bendix were prepared to testify to the insider information given by Thayer.
Since that withering encounter with the spotlight of publicity, the Conquistadores have returned to the anonymity and brotherhood of the Wyoming wilderness. Thayer even flew a vintage aircraft over the gathering in 2000, the year before diminishing eye sight forced him to hang up his goggles.
Even if this year's party is raucous, the participants will be hoping they don't attract much attention.
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