Brooke native had honor of piloting plane for vice president

LOUISE – A Brooke County native has something in common with the next speaker in the Herald-Star, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Speaker Series.

Like retired Air Force Col. Mark Tillman, who served as pilot of Air Force One, retired Air Force veteran Bob Beatty was involved in flying a vice president and several other national leaders to various destinations while serving in the Air Force’s 89th Military Airlift Wing.

Tillman will speak at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11 in the Steubenville High School auditorium when the speaker series resumes. His appearance will be part of a remembrance of the terror attacks of Sept. 11 as well as a salute to area first responders and military personnel.

Based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the wing includes the aircraft and crew members responsible for flying the president under the designation Air Force One, as well as those charged with transporting the vice president and other top federal officials under the call sign Air Force Two.

Beatty, who is from the community of Louise, near Wellsburg, and now lives in The Villages, Fla., served as a onboard flight mechanic for the wing from 1967-72.

The assignment led to his encountering Spiro Agnew, the first vice president under Richard Nixon; Henry Kissinger, who was national security adviser for Nixon and a future secretary of state; Secretary of State Melvin Laird; Five-Star Army Gen. Omar Bradley; and others.

Beatty recalled an officer who served with him carried a book in which he collected autographs from the various distinguished passengers.

“Boy, I wish I’d done that. I imagine that thing is worth a lot,” he said.

Beatty recalled flying various cabinet members and advisers for Nixon to San Clemente, a Spanish-style California mansion that was his home away from the White House, and other destinations. He acknowledged a few later were convicted for their part in the Watergate scandal.

While vice president, Agnew was accused of income tax evasion and other crimes allegedly committed when he was governor of Maryland and which he denied. Beatty said it surprised him when Agnew was convicted of tax evasion because of his professional and courteous manner toward the flight crew.

“As far as I was concerned, he was a super gentleman and a very nice person,” he said.

Beatty said he remembers Kissinger less fondly because he was known to keep the crew waiting unnecessarily, including one cold night at New York’s LaGuardia Airport while he spoke with actress Marlo Thomas, whom he was dating at the time.

“He was just a pain in the butt,” Beatty said.

But Bradley received high marks from Beatty.

“He was very congenial. He talked like he was one of the troops. That really impressed me,” he said.

Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland also proved to be down to earth, often joking with the crew, Beatty recalled.

Asked if he was ever nervous about serving such high-ranking officials, Beatty said he wasn’t.

“A lot of the people we hauled around are just like you and I. They just had an opportunity to serve at a higher level,” he said.

Beatty said his crew had to be prepared to fly on short notice. He said on one occasion Nixon called for the wing to collect members of Congress from their homes and return them to Washington so they could vote on a bill he wanted passed.

Beatty said he didn’t encounter any danger while serving, which he credited to being in the wing’s 99th Squadron, which operated in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Panama. The 98th Squadron flew most of the overseas missions, he said. But he and other crew members were well aware of the potential for danger. In the event the plane was hijacked by terrorists, the crew was given a code to signal personnel to block the plane so it couldn’t take off.

Once that was done, he and other crew members knew the hijackers “either would haggle it out (with officials) or we would be dead,” Beatty said.

Beatty said to serve in the 89th Military Airlift Wing, enlisted Air Force personnel had to be at least a staff sergeant and officers had to be at least a captain. Chosen for their outstanding efficiency reports, evaluations that were done at least yearly of all Air Force personnel, “it was a select group,” he said.

Beatty said the FBI “run a thorough background investigation of you so they knew everyone was cleared for top secret business.”

He said such checks were done not only before they were accepted into the wing, but every six months afterward. While serving, he heard of a wing member who, after having a brush with the law while off-duty, was immediately thrown out.

For Beatty, serving in the 89th Military Airlift Wing was part of a very satisfying career of more than 40 years with the Air Force.

“It was a great honor to fly with that outfit,” he said.

Beatty said his interest in the Air Force was inspired by the Buzz Sawyer, Steve Canyon and Terry and the Pirate comic strips he read as a boy.

“I thought, man, that’s something I want to do,” Beatty said.

After retiring, Beatty returned to Brooke County, where he served in the Civil Air Patrol, a volunteer auxiliary of the Air Force involved with search and rescue efforts, disaster relief and other emergency missions as well as working to spark the interest of youth in aerospace technology.

He said of his service in the Air Force, “It was very interesting and I enjoyed every bit of it.”

Tillman’s appearance is sponsored by the Herald-Star, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Eastern Gateway Community College, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Health Plan of the Upper Ohio Valley and WTRF-TV. Special support is being provided by Bayberry House Bed and Breakfast, Piergallini Catering, Steubenville High School, Newbrough Photo and Thrifty Car Rental.