“I was flying Senator Goldwater back to D.C. from his home state of Arizona. He’d taken with him a man who was the U.S. Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate. It was late at night, and we were about an hour out of Andrews when the Navy guy came up and started chatting with us in the cockpit. He was pretty interesting, being an active-duty Navy captain who had been a former prisoner of war in Vietnam. After the POWs were released, he’d taken a slot as commander of a Naval aviator training unit, so that meant he was no longer rusty as a pilot.
I’m thinking, ‘Hmm. Former (and famous) POW, very interesting and cool guy, fun to talk to, and fairly current as a pilot. Why not offer him my copilot’s seat?’
He accepted, so I sent my copilot back to chat with Goldwater. The Navy guy flew really well and I let him stay even as we started to descend into Andrews. At first, I’m sure we both thought he’d go back after a while and join Goldwater in the back, but he kept doing well and we were both having fun, so I let him stay longer. Soon, it became obvious to us both that I was going to let him take it to the landing, I’m sure we were both a bit surprised.
He said something about what if he messed up the landing. I said he could explain that to Goldwater! We laughed and he took it on in. He made a nice landing, considering that he was a Navy aviator and not even a real pilot (that’s an old joke, I know, but never call a Navy aviator a pilot—they’re not. We USAF guys can tell because they can’t land at all).
On rollout, Goldwater applauded, which meant he had low standards to be applauding any Navy guy’s landing—just kidding again—and my temporary copilot had a big smile on his face.
It wasn’t until a few years later, however, until I realized exactly how interesting a man I’d been seated next to that night.
It was Goldwater’s future replacement, John McCain.”