A Flight Engineer for Air Force One

A crew member on Air Force One for almost 20 years, Joe Chappell has seen it all.

(Courtesy Joe Chappell)
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Chappell: I saw the reaction of my fellow crew members. I had traveled with them for a long time, and I thought, Gee, if these guys are showing emotion, this has got to be bad. I heard about the assassination after Cronkite had made the broadcast.

A & S: You were aboard Air Force One when Lyndon Johnson was sworn in?

Chappell: Yes, when he came into the cockpit, he had told police not to delay Judge Hughes. I went outside and told a policeman I was waiting for Hughes. He said, “This is the judge now.” I saw a big black Buick coming up. The guy driving was wearing a Texas hat and a nice suit. I said, “Judge, will you come with me?” He said, “Just a minute.” I had assumed he was the judge, but he was the driver—the judge was in the back seat. I escorted Judge Sarah Hughes as she boarded the airplane. It was a very brief ceremony. I’m sure you’ve seen the picture; I was standing right there. [In that photo, often called the most famous ever taken aboard Air Force One, Chappell is behind Hughes, next to the photographer, and thus not visible.]

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