This 'American Made' Throwback Is So Surprising

Universal Pictures

Before he juggled working for the DEA, CIA, and Medellin cartel, American Made protagonist Barry Seal was just a regular airline pilot for TWA. Of course, an airline pilot's schedule isn't exactly conducive to productive drug smuggling, and in the film, Barry walks away from his job to pursue his career in law enforcement and criminality full time. (It's hard to be a drug smuggler while piloting domestic flights on a regular basis.) In real life, however, Seal was fired from the airline — yes, TWA was a real airline — because of his extra curricular activities. Either way, his job there didn't last; though neither did the airline, which closed in 2001.

Seal's career with the TWA, however, is almost as unclear as his work with the U.S. government, with various news outlets reporting widely different facts about Seal's career. TWA, also known as the Trans World Airlines, was created in 1924. Depending on what outlet you read, Seal joined the airline during various years in the '60s. The Daily Mail, for example, reports that Seal was hired by TWA as a pilot in 1964. At the time, Seal was fresh off of six years in the Louisiana Army National Guard, and at just 26 years old he was, according to The Daily Mail, one of the airline's youngest pilots. However, a report from The Independent states that Seal was actually hired by TWA as a flight engineer in 1968, later becoming one of their youngest pilots.

Like in the film, Seal was still working for TWA when he entered into the world of drug smuggling and covert government work. But it didn't take long for his illicit dealings to catch up with his day job. In 1972, Seal was busted carrying explosives over the border, allegedly being flown to anti-Castro Cubans. In real life, this cost Seal his job with TWA, and he was promptly fired by the airline. However, he escaped any kind of legal consequences when the CIA stepped in. Much of Seal's real story has been conflated with legend, made only more complicated by his disputed potential involvement with the CIA. One legend has it that Seal was actually delivering explosives to a U.S. federal agent when he got fired, as reported by Refinery 29.

After losing his job as an airline pilot for TWA, Seal became a full time drug smuggler and DEA informant (and maybe CIA asset). His dealings in the drug world of various South American countries earned him a reputation as one of the most prolific and interesting drug smugglers in America. 40 years after he and TWA split ways, Seal is the subject of a major Hollywood movie starring Hollywood legend Tom Cruise. But, despite Seal's notoriety, it seems that TWA would prefer not to be associated with the international criminal.

TWA outlived Seal, coming to an end in 2001. That year, the airline merged with American Airlines, sacrificing its name in the process. But just because TWA is gone does not mean it is forgotten. It is remembered with the TWA Museum in Kansas City, Mo., The museum, however, appears to be notably lacking in any mention of Seal. A search for "Barry Seal" on the TWA Museum's official blog yields zero results (as does "Barry"), and Seal is not mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article about said museum. It looks like Barry's involvement with TWA is something the company would rather keep on the down low, so as not to tarnish their reputation as one of the nation's first major airlines. One thing's for sure: the drug runner could fill up a museum on his own.