Retiring Air Force One Pilot Praises Bush As 'Definitely a Great Man'

Here's a story you may not have heard as the media have all but ignored outgoing President Bush during the Obama transition.

The Air Force pilot who flew President Bush on 9/11 and ferried the commander-in-chief on secret flights to visit troops in Iraq hails the outgoing president as "definitely a great man" for whom "it's been an honor to fly."

As CBS Radio's Mark Knoller noted in a January 17 story, Air Force Colonel Mark Tillman, commander of the Presidential Airlift Group, is retiring from military service after flying President Bush back home to Texas.:

Try to guess how many flights President Bush has flown on Air Force One since taking office.

It’s 1,675 - more than 200 flights in each of the last eight years.

And on nearly all of those flights, Col. Mark Tillman, 51, was at the controls of Air Force One.

But now, he’s got just one mission left for George W. Bush - to fly him home to Texas on Tuesday as the former president. The aircraft will be the familiar 747-400 that routinely serves as Air Force One, but that won’t be its radio call-sign on Tuesday afternoon, since Mr. Bush will be out of office. The flight home is a military courtesy to the former commander-in-chief.

“It’ll end the president’s term in office and it’ll also end my tenure at Air Force One,” said Tillman in a radio interview with CBS News.

After flying Mr. Bush to every state in the country but Vermont, and on 49 foreign trips to 75 countries, many of them more than once, Tillman will be ending his 30-year career in the Air Force.

Bush nominated him for promotion to brigadier general, but the Senate Armed Services Committee never took action on it. 

Kudos to CBS Radio's Mark Knoller for reporting the story, and to Col. Tillman, on behalf of everyone at NewsBusters, thanks for your decades of service in defense of your country.

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