Tillman at the eaglesNEST

EDITED 9/9/11:
The New York Times has published a selection of audio recordings from the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.), North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) and American Airlines from the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Click to hear the tapes.


Last night, thanks to the invitation of a good friend and Embry-Riddle alumna, we got to hear the captivating stories of Colonel Mark Tillman. Col. Tillman was the commander and pilot of Air Force One who flew President George W. Bush on nearly 2,000 flights -- among them, September 11, 2001 and the secret Thanksgiving Dinner flight to Iraq.

He warmed us up with an assassination plot story that had us on the edge of our seats wondering what would happen next. It involved Africa, a lake, Navy SEALS, a wayward fisherman with bad timing, and Air Force One roaring in at only 500 feet over the lake to thwart a potential missile attack. But just like any good thrill story, it didn't end with Air Force One landing. There was another threat on the airport grounds which ended with a man being hauled away before President Bush could emerge from the plane.

The story of September 11 gave an inside view of what it was like to deal with the unknown that day. It was a story with extra layers of meaning for pilots, but it's also a story of leadership, management and decision-making for any business audience. While we now know Air Force One landed safely that day, imagine piloting Air Force One with the President aboard, and you know one MO of the hijackers was to turn off the transponders. Then, you're notified that a plane is headed in your direction and the transponder just went off. What would you think? What would you do? Those were the decisions Col. Tillman had to make.

He also told us how he pulled off piloting Air Force One into Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day 2003 without anyone else in the world knowing except a handful of people. Well, a British Airlines pilot wound up finding out, but played along with the covert operation.

Afterwards he autographed a History channel video about Air Force One that features him. Here he is talking with our friend Arnie Quast:

Pilots swapping stories:

The Gault and Lake in the Hills group:

We were up in the air for this event, very apropos, on the 80th floor of the AON building at the Mid-America Club. Here's Sears Tower and Grant Park:

Sorry for the poor iPhone pics. They seem to be getting worse over time. Is this planned obsolescence? Like the batteries? Because we can upgrade in April ...

Watch Santa's Christmas Eve Flight with NORAD

On Christmas Eve every year, NORAD tracks a small red dot around the world -- Rudolph's nose! You can follow along on your computer or phone starting at 2 a.m. MTN on December 24 when Santa and his reindeer take off, and track their flight path across the world.

Watch the video of his 2009 flight past the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, the Kremlin, the Great Wall of China, the Sydney Opera House, NASA headquarters, the Egyptian pyramids, the Empire State Building and more. He even flies through the Parthenon, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Arch in St. Louis. Amazing!!! Watch him do this! This is a fun video to share with your kids and grandkids.

The NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube Channel has many videos explaining how they track Santa, of interest to anyone in the aviation community. So he can visit billions of homes in one day, Santa is actually the fastest flying thing on Earth. How he does it, no one knows. He keeps the technology to himself and no one wants to be the first to try to get the secrets from him. That would be very bad PR. The money Santa would have to spend to defend himself would mean no presents for many children. Imagine that happening! So some secrets, we are willing to accept. Anyway, tracking him at his speed is quite a challenge. NORAD watches for the additional point the satellites track on this one day of the year:

Canada's NORAD deploys CF-18 fighters as soon as Santa reports that he's taking off:

Canada's NORAD reports that Santa's reindeer are very excited to see the CF-18 fighter jets. Here's a pic snapped by a CF-18 pilot:

See Rudolph's nose! That's how the satellites can track Santa. Rudolph's nose has been that way for about 200 years, long before satellites. Cool how that worked out, huh?

Find everything you need to watch Santa at the NORAD Tracks Santa website. You can even follow Santa on Google Earth. And if it's not cool to be watching a computer all night when family is around on Christmas Eve, you can sneak some peeks on your phone -- yes, we can now watch Santa's flight on smartphones. On December 24, just open Google Maps for mobile, search "Santa" and you'll see where he is. You can also follow his flight path on Twitter. You'll be able to show your kids and grandkids how close Santa is getting. Because Santa won't come until after they go to bed. And remember to leave some hot cocoa and cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer as that is the fuel for their fast flight. We heard carrots are his reindeer's favorite food. Find out here how Santa's reindeer might have acquired their flying abilities.

Santa Claus, Indiana

This is a perfect week to call a winter destination to your attention: Santa Claus, Indiana. It's in southern Indiana, west of Louisville, Kentucky. Huntingburg Airport (HNB) is the closest, and it's 246 nm from 3CK.

Here's what you'll find in Santa Claus, Indiana (as if you aren't guessing already):
Visit the only post office in the world named after Santa Claus. If you decide you want to stay permanently, talk to the folks at HO HO HOldings. Maybe a place on Christmas Lake Golf Course would interest you.

If you haven't had enough of Santa Claus and Christmas yet, here are some photos:

The Santa Claus Christmas Store:

Frosty's Fun Center:

Finally, get mouth-watering sugary confections at Santa's Candy Castle:

You can get to this home of Christmas spirit in 1:41 in the Arrow from 3CK per the AOPA Flight Planner (we hope we don't get sued by "FlightThreat").

To Troy KVLL for Thanksgiving

Instead of a 6-hour drive, we chose to fly to Troy, Michigan -- KVLL -- to visit family for Thanksgiving.

We load our precious cargo, "Fly Boy" Chaai. The poor guy, we probably took advantage of his very kind mellow personality. He clearly did not enjoy the flight much, but he's too nice to complain about it.

It was not the most beautiful sky as we headed out, but the sight of Chicago so close from the air is always appreciated to see.

Imagine all the holiday shoppers down there on Michigan Avenue. Is anyone turning their eye to the sky and spotting us?

Check it out, the Sears Tower above the wingtip! Yeah we know what it's supposed to be called now, but it will always be the Sears Tower to us.

As we headed south past Gary, the windshield started picking up ice, which led to Parth's post about how this happened.

Our passenger wondered, when is this gonna be over already?!? Sorry buddy, we're facing a strong headwind, and it's a bit slow-going. Gonna be awhile.

So here's what you'll see as you come up on Southfield, Michigan and I-696. KVLL is only a few minutes beyond this.

OK, we intended to show you video of approaching and landing at KVLL, but Deb thought the video OFF button was the ON button ... so, no video. The runway is in a heavily built-up and populated area, tucked behind a Wal-Mart and across from a large shopping center. With the 496 guiding you there, you'll easily see it a few miles north of I-696.

One passenger was very relieved that we found the runway.

"Are we there yet?!? Can I have some turkey now?"

Fly Boy

Chaai modeling his Mutt Muffs before the flight to KVLL for Thanksgiving. Believe it or not, he kept them on the whole flight.
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