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 ...
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