Bush piloted National Guard trainers just before he stopped flying
September 10, 2004
WASHINGTON (AP) – After routinely piloting a fighter jet solo for most of his career, George W. Bush began flying a two-seat jet designed for training in the weeks just before the Texas Air National Guard stripped him of his pilot’s privileges in 1972, flight logs show.
The logs indicate Bush did half of his final 21 flights in a training jet or simulator, and on four occasions he sat in the co-pilot’s position after more than a year of commanding a single-seat F-102A fighter by himself.
The logs also show the future president was heavily focused at the end of his pilot time on flying by instruments – a skill he mastered during his initial training three years earlier with near-perfect scores of 97 and 98.
The White House said it cannot explain why Bush was using a training plane when he had risen to the rank of first lieutenant as a solo flyer of a fighter jet.
But officials noted the activities occurred in the spring of 1972 when Bush was trying to cram in extensive required flying time before he left the Guard for six months to work on a political campaign in Alabama.
“He did his training and was honorably discharged,” White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
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The numerous trainer and simulator flights occurred at a period most heavily examined by Bush’s political critics. They were among Bush’s last visits to the cockpit before he refused a required pilot’s physical and was stripped of his flying status after three years in the Air National Guard.
Before The Associated Press obtained the flight logs this week under the Freedom of Information Act and a related lawsuit, there was little detail about exactly how Bush performed as a pilot or what he did in the cockpit before he lost flying privileges.
Air Force experts who examined the records at the request of AP said the logs could reflect anything from problems in Bush’s flight performance to a shortage of available fighter jets.
“Maybe he had a problem, but I wouldn’t assume that. You can’t tell,” said retired Air Force Col. Leonard “Jack” Walls, a former flight instructor at an Alabama Air National Guard unit where Bush temporarily served.
The training officer who taught Bush how to fly his jet at the beginning of his career said he had no concerns about Bush’s skills when he was certified. “I taught the guy and he is good,” said retired Col. Maurice Udell.
For most of his National Guard career – more than 200 hours in the air – Bush flew solo in a one-seat F-102A fighter used to patrol the skies against any attacks from enemy aircraft.
However, the logs show Bush flew nine times in T-33 training jets and two more times on a simulator in February and March 1972 – nearly twice as many times as he had flown in training vehicles in the prior 18 months in the Guard.
In one week alone, he flew eight times in the T-33 training vehicle. On four of the trainer flights, Bush moved from primary pilot to co-pilot, the logs show.
The T-33 is designed to help train pilots early in their career, allowing for a more experienced pilot to sit behind a trainee before the trainee is permitted to fly solo in a single-pilot jet. Bush flew extensively in the T-33 during his pilot schooling at the beginning of his Guard career.
Air Force experts said it is hard to know why Bush suddenly returned to flying the T-33.
Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a former head of the Air National Guard, speculated that Bush may have done so to put in enough hours to stay current with his pilot requirements if there was no F-102A available, adding, “It’s hard to say without having been there.”
The logs also show that Bush, who throughout his career usually landed his jet with a single pass, required two passes to land the F-102A fighter simulator March 12 and a regular fighter jet April 10, 1972. His last flight as an Air National Guard pilot came six days later .
Retired Maj. Gen. Paul A. Weaver, another former Air National Guard chief, said Bush may have just been practicing landing skills, adding, “It doesn’t mean anything to have multiple approaches.”
Whatever the case, Bush stopped flying altogether shortly after the trainer flights in 1972. He then skipped a required medical exam, did not appear for any training for six months, transferred from the Texas Air National Guard to the Alabama National Guard to work on a political campaign and was stripped of his pilot privileges, his officials records show.
White House officials also could not explain the final two entries of Bush’s official flight logs that refer to him being assigned to work as an instructional pilot in late May 1972 at a Texas Air National Guard base. Bush left the base for Alabama before the two dates listed on the flight logs and his records show he wasn’t paid for work on those dates.
The logs have a code indicating the assignments were eventually deleted from his official records. White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the entries could have been a paperwork error.