‘I reminded him that Saudi Arabia would be billed directly for the total cost and so he didn’t need to pay now. The roll disappeared back in the folds of his robe and he went inside to wait,’ Ron Wagner, former T-39A Sabreliner pilot with 89th AW.
The 89th Airlift Wing (89th AW) is one of 17 Air Force active duty wings assigned to Air Mobility Command (AMC) and is a tenant unit based at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The 89th AW provides global Special Air Mission airlift, logistics, aerial port and communications for the president, vice president, cabinet members, combatant commanders and other senior military and elected leaders as tasked by the White House, Air Force chief of staff and AMC.
According to the US Air Force (USAF) the unit’s mission is to “Advancing national interests by delivering diplomacy…safe, comfortable, reliable, connected, and protected. “Perfection is our standard!”’
At this point, one may think that 89th AW performs its mission by flying luxury business jets…
‘I was there. As a pilot in the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force base I flew the jets there. They are absolutely not luxury and here’s how I know that.
‘As you can imagine, most of our passengers were U.S. government people. The most famous, of course, is Air Force One. But we also flew Air Force Two and Executive One Foxtrot (first family). And then, often under the “SAM” call sign (Special Air Missions), we flew in direct support of the White House.
‘However, we were also tasked with flying foreign dignitaries within the borders of the USA. They would fly into Andrews on their own jets, but they were not allowed to fly domestically in their jets with their crews, so their jets were parked on our North Ramp and they rode with us. When they needed security details, that service was provided by the State Department, which has a branch that is a carbon copy of what you know as the Secret Service—same mission, same type of people, just for the protection of non-U.S. VIPs.
‘I first learned of how not luxury our jets were when I carried a Saudi prince and his entourage from Andrews to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas because Saudi Arabia wanted to buy F-15s. They were going to get a very special F-15 show out there.’
‘When the prince stepped on board, I was watching from the cockpit and he landed at the top of the stairs in shocked disgust at the interior of our jet.
‘He at first refused, but the State Department “escort” reminded him that his only choice was to ride in an U.S. Air Force jet or go commercial because his plane and crew could not fly within the USA. He was insulted at the total lack of “luxury” in our jets.
‘I got more insight into his expectations when we stopped for fuel halfway there. Before he walked away he reached into his robe and pulled out a large roll of $1,000 bills and started peeling them off, asking how many I needed to pay for the fuel.
‘I reminded him that Saudi Arabia would be billed directly for the total cost and so he didn’t need to pay now. The roll disappeared back in the folds of his robe and he went inside to wait.
‘My eyeballs were still bulging when I turned to the State Department guy and asked how much money he had. “He has 235 one-thousand-dollar bills on him.”
‘I about passed out as this was about 1977 or so and that was enough money to retire on, but then the State Department guy continued, “But that’s just his pocket money for the first time we hit the tables. The real money is in my briefcase.”
‘“How much is in the briefcase?”
‘“Of course in cash.”’
‘NOTE ABOUT THE BILLS: I’ve received many comments saying that I’m lying about this because it was not possible to get $1,000 bills in 1977. I finally got confirmation that there were plenty of them around then, and that it was possible for the right person to get them. And a Saudi prince visiting the USA to buy 60 of the top fighter in the world was definitely “the right person” to get them.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Rob Schleiffert from Holland via Wikipedia