Former Air Force One pilot remembers 911Posted: Updated:
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Mark Tillman was the only pilot allowed to fly following the attacks on the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
After all, his passenger was none other than President Bush.
Now the former Air Force One pilot is making the Valley his new home. Tillman says, "The job of Air Force One started out as a glamorous great job taking the president everywhere. We were always the men in black, the folks behind the scenes."
But on 9-11, the glamour faded. Tillman got word of the terrorist attacks as he was preparing Air Force One to take off from Sarasota, Florida.
He says, "All we knew is that they were hijacking airliners and they were slamming them into buildings. We had no idea if they were following us or not but we weren't going to take any chances. It was just a long day of decoying, not letting the country or the world know where the president was at. We had no idea what the plan was to either assassinate the president etc. so every little threat, if there was an airliner above us, we go to move and get out of its way, we weren't exactly sure what they could see or what they could actually do. We stayed airborne throughout the day, took him to different locations to allow him to still function as the president of the United States."
When Tillman was cleared to bring the President back to Washington D.C., he remained on edge. "We had no idea what was waiting for us. The fear was there was people on the ground waiting to shoot him down kind of the end of the day kind of thing they knew that he'd be coming back.
Only after they landed at Andrews Air Force Base, Tillman explains, "For me it was the best feeling ever to watch him walk down the stairs completely secure with service all around him and then move him into Marine One.
I joke about this all the time. My job was to get him everywhere he needed to go and when he'd walk down those stairs and he got into that armored limousine, I could breathe a sigh of relief because I knew he was safe."
For the next 8 years, Tillman was under a different kind of pressure to keep the president safe, especially on September 11.
As Tillman explains, “Terrorists do events on the anniversaries of their major terrorist attacks. So every September 11, we were ready to go."
Today, Tillman is back in the cockpit piloting for another president, the CEO of Discount Tire, Bruce Halle.
In fact, Tillman is working with some familiar faces. "Mr. Halle and Mrs. Halle have hired a lot of the ex-crew from Air Force One. There's a lot of guys that we've grown up together.
“Bush 41, Pres. Clinton and Bush 43 so we're all tight. We've got a lot of experience that we bring to the table.
All of us are honored to work at Discount Tire. It's a great company."