Wheels Up: State Aviation Icon Col. Ralph Albertazzie and a Look at Moving a President

By Charles Koukoulis on January 20, 2013 from Wheels Up via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Since we just had one of the Presidential aircraft here doing practice take-off and landings last week, I thought I would write about the 89th Airlift Wing and my visit there at Andrews Air Force base.  The aircraft that was here is a Boeing 737-700 designated the C-40 Clipper.  It is used by both the Air Force and Navy.  The 89th is the wing dedicated to flying the President and other high ranking government officials. You can check out their web site, the 89th Airlift Wing
Before I go further it is fitting to honor a fellow West Virginian, Col. Ralph Albertazzie.  He was born in Cassville, WV and served in WWII as a transport pilot and transport aircraft flight instructor. Col. Albertazzie and my father, Angelo, were in business together in Morgantown after WWII.  They had a flight school called Pioneer Flying Service.  Sometime in 1951 Albertazzie was called back to active duty in the Air Force.  He was a pilot, a pilot's pilot indeed.  As a member of a special transport unit he had the unique distinction to have flown John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as VIP passengers prior to either of them becoming President. President Eisenhower was the first United States President to fly in a jet powered transport, a Boeing 707 designated SAM 26000.  Two of those aircraft were put in service and flew Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan.  Albertazzie was assigned to fly Air Force One in 1968 as a member of a special unit at Andrews Air Force Base.  He was President Richard M. Nixon's pilot.  Col. Albertazzie was part of the planning with Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to take President Nixon to China.  This would be the first time a United States President would make that trip.  It is an interesting story.  During the Reagan presidency the need to replace the aging 707 was realized and the design of the Boeing 747-200 began – that aircraft is designated VC-25.  Albertazzie was part of the team that created that design specification.  He remained active as a consultant to the presidential unit for many years to follow.  You can find the full history of the presidential aircraft at Air Force One.
I was most fortunate to have known Col. Albertazzie and worked with him over the years.  He was on my father's company, AeroMech, board of directors and was a great inspiration to me.  He had a vision to create the West Virginia Aviation Museum Foundation, which we did back in 2001.  On September 10, 2001 sadly, we had our last meeting.  The next day the world changed like never before and so our efforts to establish the museum faded.  I still maintain the non-profit corporation, but it is dormant.  I hope someday we can resurrect that effort and honor West Virginia's rich aviation history.  Col. Albertazzie passed away in August 2011.  I could go on about Col. Albertazzie, but I invite you to read his interview with Martha Samsell at WVU School of Journalism on June 9, 2003.  It is contained in the Library of Congress and the link to the interview is on the Veteran's History Project website, Interview with Col. Albertazzie.
A couple of years ago I attended the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President's Roundtable in Washington, DC.  It was a gathering of industry leaders from across the United States.  There were two days of panel discussions featuring member of Congress, TSA, FAA and of course CEO's of some of the country's major business aircraft manufacturers and operators.  The conference was quite an experience and it was capped off with a visit to Andrews Air Force base to tour the 89th Airlift Wing.  One of the NATA Board members had an employee whose son was a ranking officer with the 89th and was able to arrange the briefing and tour.  We were given a behind the scenes 'view' of what is involved in moving the President of the United States around the country and the world.  The logistics are mind boggling.  Large transport aircraft pre-position all the ground vehicles and logistics in advance of the President's arrival.  His limousine and all the Secret Service vehicles are sent this way. The 89th employs approximately 1,200 personnel in the Wing committed to flawless operations.  They have a motto, "SAM Fox,"  which when spoken sums up the entire realm of perfection in the execution of their mission.  The term is actually a form of aircraft call sign.  SAM Fox is the acronym for Special Airlift Missions-Foreign.  The motto evolved and is used as a verb, noun and adjective in the 89th.  When things are SAM Fox, excellence has been achieved.
After the briefing we went out to the flight line and got to tour the C-32 (Boeing 757-200) which is typically the Vice President's designated aircraft.  When he is aboard that or any aircraft the call sign is 'Air Force Two' provided the President is not aboard.  When the President is aboard it is 'Air Force One'.  Only when they are aboard is the call sign used.  We also toured the C-37A (Gulfstream G-V).  That aircraft is used for short trips and support staff and dignitaries.  Of course there are helicopters operated by the Marines that also supplement the aircraft fleet.  Also, there are two VC-25's and two C-32's in the fleet.  They always send two aircraft on all missions.  They don't land at the same place, but they are never far away in case of a mechanical problem or anything that would preclude a departure of the primary aircraft.  During the briefing the Colonel told us that it costs over one million dollars per flight hour to operate the mission.  No inexpensive operation by any means and it's certainly no wonder.  SAM Fox doesn't come cheap!
I have added a few pictures from my visit.  It was a great experience and if you ever have the opportunity to get that tour, do it!  Until next time, Wheels Up!

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