The “interview” for the 89th Military Airlift Wing seemed fairly straightforward. It wasn’t so much about how well I could fly an airplane, rather it seemed to be more about my demeanor and whether they thought I had the personality traits that would allow me to quickly establish rapport with the various VIPs I would come in contact with. The organization assumed you had the necessary flying skills, or you wouldn’t have gotten this far in the process. Another subjective element that I came to understand later was the ability to make decisions and to do so rapidly. Because of the unit’s mission of flying U.S. and foreign dignitaries, there was absolutely no room for mistakes. I remember someone commenting that you were allowed one mistake, unfortunately, that one mistake was also the one that got you a sayonara plaque or pewter mug at your going away party. Mistakes were the other guy’s problem. No room for them in this organization.


Joining the 89th Military Airlift Wing

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one going through the interview process.  I seem to remember there were about 10 or 12 of us, mostly pilots, but a couple of navigators as well.  In any case, at the end of our day of interviews and showing us around the organization, we were asked to attend a cocktail party at the Officer’s Club (O’Club). All the interviewees were in attendance, along with the 89th MAW (Military Airlift Wing) staff and the commanders of the two squadrons; the 98th and 99th. Wing staff personnel outnumbered us almost three to one. Some good soul among the staff that I had met earlier that day, gave me a helpful hint. He said, “Tonight’s cocktail party is very much a part of the interview process, so be forewarned. There will be plenty of booze available.”  I got the message loud and clear – don’t drink too much and keep the conversation on a positive note. Not everyone got the memo, and I watched as a couple of folks had more to drink than they should have. Needless to say, they didn’t make the cut!

I successfully maneuvered through the interview process and received orders to report to the 99th Military Airlift Squadron (MAS) in June 1975.  I would be flying SAMs (Special Air Missions) in the VC-140 Jetstar, a four-engine, eight-passenger corporate jet with a range of around 2,000 miles.

VC-140 Jetstar
The VC-140 Jetstar. (Wikimedia Commons)



At the time, the 89th MAW had two operational flying squadrons; the 99th MAS flying the Lockheed VC-140 Jetstar and the McDonnel-Douglas VC-9 Nightingale, and the 98th MAS flying the VC-137 Boeing Stratoliner and the VC-135 Boeing Stratolifter long-range aircraft. All the aircraft assigned to the 89th MAW were carried on the books of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, while the aircrews flying these aircraft were administratively assigned to the Military Airlift Command.  The office of the vice chief of staff of the USAF controlled our operational missions. The White House Office of Military Affairs controlled the pecking order. In other words, who was high enough up in “rank” to request and be assigned an aircraft.

The president and vice president came with the call signs, Air Force One, and Air Force Two, respectively. This meant that any airplane in the fleet that the president stepped foot on became Air Force One. On the other hand, if he climbed aboard an Army, Navy, or Marine aircraft then they would lay claim to the call sign for their branch; for example, Marine One is the helicopter operated by the U.S. Marine Corp. When the president is onboard, the call sign is “Marine One.”

The 89th MAW had a special internal faction known as the Presidential Pilots Office. The men and women that populated this unit were selected based on both tenure in the organization and their outstanding performance. This highly competent cadre was then, and is now, tasked with handling everything to do with getting the president of the United States and his entourage from point A to point B and back again safely.