Secretary Gates Concerned About Violation of Protocols for Air Force One Flyover

May 8, 2009 12:45pm

ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Luis Martinez report:

On the same day the White House is scheduled to issue a report as to what went wrong when White House military office director Louis Caldera signed off on an Air Force One flyover that frightened so many New Yorkers on April 27, a letter was made public indicating that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is concerned about the lack of military supervision of the plan.

Last week, a VC-25 aircraft that can be used as Air Force One, and an F-16 fighter jet, buzzed unusually low over Manhattan, scaring New Yorkers and conjuring memories of the 9/11 attacks. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was "furious" that he had not be notified.

It turned out that some of the three-hour mission was training for the pilots, but the presence of the planes over Manhattan was to take a new photograph of Air Force One, with the Statue of Liberty in the shot.

In a May 5 letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released by McCain’s office today, Secretary Gates wrote that he is "concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval" by senior Air Force and Department of Defense officials.

Gates also asserted that he was "concerned about the use of an Air National Guard aircraft operating in Title 32 status as a participant in this event."

The F-16 that carried the photographer was provided by the Alabama Air National Guard, on loan to the Washington DC Air National Guard. Title 32 is the status under which National Guard units are activated by their state governor. Under Title 10 the President can federalize national guard units.

Presumably, Gates would rather have had an active duty U.S. Air Force aircraft and pilot to be flying the F-16, not a plane and pilot from the Air National Guard.

The White House is expected to release both the photographs taken on the mission and its own internal investigation of what happened on Friday.

White House sources say President Obama was "furious" when he heard of the incident. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina chewed out Caldera, and his job status is as of now unclear.

In his letter to McCain, which can be viewed HERE, the Secretary of Defense added that he thought the fear caused by the low-flying VC-25 as well as the two F-16 fighter jets was "understandable, and we deeply regret the anxiety and alarm that resulted from this mission."

The mission lasted three hours, Gates said, with part of the mission used to obtain the photo of Air Force One with the Statue of Liberty. The flights were also a continuation of pilot training including ."practice instrument approaches and landings at Atlantic City International Airport, an approved training location."

He estimated the mission cost at $328,835.*

Gates wrote that on April 30, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff "directed Air Mobility Command to conduct an end-to-end review" of flights of the VC-25, used as Air Force One, "with particular emphasis on notification procedures for high-visibility training events."

Regarding any improper use of the Air National Guard aircraft under Title 32 status, Secretary Gates also directed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen "to ensure that the Military Service and National Guard Bureau procedures for such activities include appropriate safeguards, checks and balances to ensure missions of this type are properly reviewed, vetted and announced in the future."

–  Jake Tapper at the White House and Luis Martinez at the Pentagon

* This figure has been clarified.

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