From Pilot to President
Do aviators make better leaders?
- By Barrett Tillman
- Air & Space magazine, August 2009
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
(Page 3 of 4)
Rawlings toppled his successor in 1981, got himself elected in 1993, and finally left office due to term limits in 2001.
Bolivia’s René Barrientos Ortuño, a career military officer, learned to fly in 1945. He owned a Cessna 195 and enjoyed buzzing passenger trains in a military AT-6. In the 1940s, he gravitated toward the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, and took part in the Bolivian revolution in 1952. He flew Victor Paz Estenssoro, the revolution’s leader who had been in exile in Argentina, back into the country, and as a result was given command of Bolivia’s air force.
In 1960, during a public air force parachute demonstration, three skydivers fell to their deaths before a horrified crowd. When Barrientos became the target of some of the accusations that followed, he strapped on one of the parachutes that had failed to open and jumped from an airplane. The chute performed properly. Barrientos claimed that his jump proved that nothing was fundamentally wrong with the parachute or his credibility.
He served almost continuously as president from 1964 to 1969, when he died in a helicopter crash.
Prince Felipe of Spain was voted by People magazine as the Sexiest Royal in 1997. After years as one of Europe’s most eligible bachelors, the 41-year-old heir to the Spanish throne is married and a dad to two daughters. But he’s flown the F/A-18 Hornet, and is helicopter-qualified in the army and the navy.
Now, if you were born into European royalty, and you asked for the keys to a supersonic fighter, your dad would probably hand them over. Furthermore, while Spanish women might swoon over his six-foot-five height, most air forces would pass on someone that tall, as a tight fit in a fighter cockpit. But Felipe seems legit—with the other Spanish air force cadets in his class, he happily shaved his hair in the shape of a T, a tradition on the day they get their wings.
There are plenty more presidents, prime ministers, monarchs, and dictators with wings. Which ones do you think have had the right stuff, and which ones are mainly stuffing? Send an e-mail to us at email@example.com.
Barrett Tillman specializes in naval aviation and has written 43 books. He’s currently working on Whirlwind, the first single-volume account of all Allied air operations over Japan during World War II, due out in May 2010 from Simon & Schuster.