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The Billionaire Brothers Behind America's Predator Drones -- And Their Very Strange Past

Linden Stanley and James Neal Blue's General Atomics has a massive stake in the drone industry. But that's just the start.

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What we do know with a fair amount of certainty is that Linden Stanley Blue and James Neal Blue were born to a wealthy family in Colorado during the Great Depression, went to Yale, served as Air Force pilots, and have been involved in some very heavy business activities since then: They've enriched uranium, dumped radioactive waste on a Native American reservation, infiltrated and spied on environmental activists, operated plantations with one of the South America's most brutal dictator clans and tried to turn Telluride, the quaint Colorado ski town, into a giant McTractHome development.

Today the Blue brothers reside in separate mansions in the wealthy, pasty-white beach enclave of La Jolla -- the Beverly Hills of San Diego -- not far from the headquarters of General Atomics. The brothers are both approaching 80, and are extremely wary of the press.

The Blue's weren't always as shy of the spotlight as they are today.

Back in 1957, Neal Blue and his brother Linden made the cover of  LIFE magazine as "The Flying Blue Brothers.” It showed them crammed into the cockpit of a small blue single-prop plane, with big creepy smiles, ready to fly around the perimeter of South America.

The Blue brothers of Yale make a hazardous hemispheric odyssey 
The tiny plane above, dodging through cloud openings among the treacherous peaks of the Colombian Andes, is the vehicle of a unique, exciting modern odyssey. Last summer, piloted alternately by Yale men Neal and Linden Blue (left), the Blue Bird flew 25,000 miles in 110 days--from Denver. Colo, to Mexico, down along the rugged west coast of South America, across the Andes to Argentina, back north again over the Caribbean to Miami, and at last to New Haven. The log of their trip was packed with colorful and hazardous incident. With oxygen but without a supercharger in their single-engined plane, they Hew at dangerous altitudes of 16,000 feet They made 44 stops along the way, dropping in on affable plantation owners and friendly head-hunters; they landed lightheartedly where no plane had ever been before and then were forced down dangerously where no plane should have been.

One of these "affable plantation owners” was none other than Anastasio Somoza, the brutal dictator whose family had run Nicaragua like their own private slave plantation for three generations, until being ousted in from power in 1979 after a bloody popular uprising led by the Sandinistas.

One of the LIFE spreads is a picture of the brothers hanging up hammocks to dry on their plane, with a caption explaining that "the boys and their bedding had got soaked when they slept out in a tropical shower” in Nicaragua, "where they interviewed the late President Somoza.”

The Blue brothers did more than just interview President Somoza, they went into business with his family, partnering up on several agricultural ventures, including cocoa and banana plantations, as well as a 100,000-acre ranch of some kind. The details are murky, but it seems the partnership continued until the very end of Somoza rule.

These are the same Somozas whose security forces were caught on camera  executing an American reporter for ABC News in 1979, shooting him point-blank in the head as he lay on the ground face-down. That reporter had come to Nicaragua to cover the revolution. When American TV showed the reporter getting his brains blown out, that was the last straw forcing Carter to withdraw U.S. backing for the Somoza family.

Their hold on power collapsed, the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua, and the Blue brothers' business partners went into exile in the U.S. The execution of a nosy journalist wouldn't have interested the Blue brothers much, but losing their agricultural holding to a bunch of commie peasants wounded their pride. It's a wound that festers to this very day.

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