September 11, 2004
Last modified September 11, 2004 - 1:03 am
Bush flew in training planes before losing pilot privileges
WASHINGTON - After routinely piloting a fighter jet solo for most of his career, George W. Bush began flying a two-seat jet designed for training in the weeks just before the Texas Air National Guard stripped him of his pilot's privileges in 1972, flight logs show.
The logs indicate that Bush did half of his final 21 flights in a training jet or simulator, and on four occasions he sat in the co-pilot's position after more than a year of commanding a single-seat F-102A fighter by himself.
The logs also show the future president was heavily focused at the end of his pilot time on flying by instruments - a skill he mastered during his initial training three years earlier with near-perfect scores of 97 and 98.
The White House said it cannot explain why Bush was using a training plane when he had risen to the rank of first lieutenant as a solo flyer of a fighter jet.
But officials said the activities occurred in the spring of 1972 when Bush was trying to cram in extensive required flying time before he left the Guard for six months to work on a political campaign in Alabama.
"He did his training and was honorably discharged," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
The numerous trainer and simulator flights occurred at a period most heavily examined by Bush's political critics. They were among Bush's last visits to the cockpit before he refused a required pilot's physical and was stripped of his flying status after three years in the Air National Guard.
Before The Associated Press obtained the flight logs this week under the Freedom of Information Act and a related lawsuit, there was little detail about exactly how Bush performed as a pilot or what he did in the cockpit before he lost flying privileges.
Air Force experts who examined the records at the request of AP said the logs could reflect anything from problems in Bush's flight performance to a shortage of available fighter jets.
"Maybe he had a problem, but I wouldn't assume that. You can't tell," said retired Air Force Col. Leonard "Jack" Walls, a former flight instructor at an Alabama Air National Guard unit where Bush temporarily served.
The training officer who taught Bush how to fly his jet at the beginning of his career said he had no concerns about Bush's skills when he was certified. "I taught the guy and he is good," said retired Col. Maurice Udell.
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