What’s Wrong With this Picture?
President George W. Bush came to town yesterday to campaign for Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM). However, this is about all you could see of him, as he sped by in his motorcade.
Let me back up and tell you of my day.
My friend Ken Coolidge flew in from California Thursday, in his private plane. He was with a fellow retired US Air Force pilot, Lt. Col. John Sullivan to peruse the real estate situation here in Albuquerque.
After their Air Force flying days, they both became chiefs of police on separate bases. Both were assigned to Kirtland Air Force base in the early 1980’s. After retiring, they worked in corporate security in Southern California and both have retired a second time.
They both own rental homes in town and were just checking on them. OK, they really just needed an excuse to make a long cross-country flight.
Coolidge made arrangements to get a tour of the Eclipse Aviation facility and invited me to join them. We were to meet at Eclipse, on the south side of the Sunport at four pm.
Traffic was extremely heavy on southbound I-25. There was no traffic northbound because state, local and county law enforcement units were closing down the highway for the presidential motorcade.
Coolidge called to say he was hung up in traffic and would be delayed a few minutes. I was exiting I-25 at Sunport Boulevard, but there were officers at the top of the ramp holding traffic. I pulled off the pavement, got my cameras and photographed the “stack” of tandem police motorcycles preceding the presidential limousine for traffic control.
The limousine was followed by a long motorcade of secret service, White House staff, national press corps, White House communications, rescue/ambulance and additional law enforcement vehicles.
I arrived at Eclipse Aviation, met Coolidge and Sullivan and had a wonderful tour of the sales showrooms.The Eclipse jet is built here in Albuquerque.
It is amazing and will be in production as soon as the Federal Aviation Administration approves the certification process. It is going to be a hot-rod executive plane. Eclipse has taken over 2,000 orders, at about $1.3 million each.
This is John Sullivan, left, with Ken Coolidge looking over the E500.
After the tour, we decided to go see the president depart on Air Force One.
Coolidge drove onto Kirtland and passed the gate by showing his military ID card. We drove towards the base operations building where Air Force One was parked. As we neared, two female military police stood in the roadway and stopped us. One air police approached and said, “We’re under lockdown, you have to turn around.”
We did, “mutter mutter, spit spit.” Sullivan stated that there was something fundamentally wrong when American citizens can’t go to the airport to see their president board their tax-paid $325 million airplane and watch it take-off.
Air Force One was already taxiing to the east end of the Sunport to take off to the west.
It was then that I learned that Sullivan had been the pilot of Air Force Two for Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s vice president, in the late 1970s.
He spoke of the no-expense-too-great attitude for transporting the president. There were also two C-17 Globemaster III transporters supporting the trip parked on the ramp.
The total time between the motorcade entering I-25 and Air Force One, wheels up, was about an hour and a half.
No… you can’t see George! Unless you contribute $1,000 to Wilson's campaign. To get a picture with the president, cost another $5,000. Bush's visit swelled Wilson's campaign war chest by about $375,000. It probably cost nearly that much to transport the president and all his support in three Air Force planes including all the local costs associated with his protection.
The operating cost of the Eclipse is a dollar per seat, per mile; hardly what it cost for a presidential visit.