Former T-39A Pilot tells the story of when a Saudi Prince arrived in the US to buy F-15s pulled out a Roll of $1,000 Bills and asked him how many he needed to pay for the Sabreliner Fuel

T-39A Pilot recalls when a Saudi Prince arrived in the US to buy F-15s pulled out a Roll of $1,000 Bills and asked him how many he needed to pay for the Sabreliner Fuel

By Dario Leone
May 10 2024
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The T-39 Sabreliner

The T-39 was developed by North American Aviation, Inc. as a private venture to meet a USAF requirement for a twin-jet utility trainer. The prototype T-39 made its first flight on Sep. 16, 1958. In January 1959, the USAF placed a production order and on Jun. 30, 1960, the first production T-39A made its initial flight. In all, 143 T-39As and 6 T-39Bs were built for the USAF; another 62 T-39 variants were produced for the Navy. After the bulk of military contracts had been met, the Sabreliner entered the commercial market where it became a highly successful executive jet transport.

The 89th Airlift Wing

The T-39 Sabreliner jets were used by the 89th Airlift Wing (89th AW), one of 17 Air Force active duty wings assigned to Air Mobility Command (AMC) and 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…

‘The Air Force does not have luxury business jets!,’ Ron Wagner, former T-39A Sabreliner pilot with 89th AW, recalls on Quora.

T-39A Pilot recalls when a Saudi Prince arrived in the US to buy F-15s pulled out a Roll of $1,000 Bills and asked him how many he needed to pay for the Sabreliner Fuel

Foreign dignitaries

‘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.

The Saudi prince with a roll of $1,000 bills

‘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.’

Wagner continues;

‘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.

F-15 model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

‘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.”

The right person: The Saudi prince with $1,000 bills

‘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?”

‘“Ten million.”

‘“In cash?”

‘“Of course in cash.”’

Wagner concludes;

‘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.’

36th TFW F-15C Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-15C Eagle 36th TFW, 22d TFS, BT/79-051 / 1981

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Rob Schleiffert from Holland via Wikipedia


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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