WASHINGTON – George W. Bush (search) began flying a two-seat jet especially designed for training purposes more frequently in the weeks just before he quit flying for the Texas Air National Guard (search), and twice required multiple attempts to land a one-seat fighter, his pilot logs show.
The White House said it cannot explain the changes in Bush's official flight logs, released to The Associated Press this week as part of a Freedom of Information Act (search) lawsuit, but noted they occurred at a time in the spring of 1972 when Bush was trying to cram in extensive flying time before departing the Guard for six months to work on a political campaign in Alabama.
"He did his training and was honorably discharged," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
Air Force experts who examined the records at the request of AP said they would need more information to know exactly what happened but that the logs could reflect anything from problems in Bush's flight performance to a shift in emphasis in his training.
For most of his National Guard career -- more than 200 hours -- Bush flew solo in a one-seat F-102A fighter that was used to patrol the skies against any attacks from enemy aircraft.
However, the logs show Bush flew nine times in T-33 trainers in February and March 1972 -- nearly twice as many times as he had flown in the training vehicle in the prior 18 months in the National Guard.
He flew eight times in the training vehicle in one week alone. On four of the trainer flights, Bush moved from primary pilot to co-pilot even though he had advanced from a second to a first lieutenant, the logs show.
The T-33 jet is designed to help train pilots early in their career, allowing for a more experienced pilot to sit behind a trainee before the trainee is permitted to fly solo in a single-pilot jet. During his pilot schooling at the beginning of his National Guard career, Bush flew extensively in the T-33.
Air Force experts said it is hard to know without more information what caused Bush to suddenly begin using the training vehicle at the end of his pilot career. He could have been practicing a skill he was struggling with, trying to learn a new skill, or help train another pilot.
Retired Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a former head of the Air National Guard, said Bush may have jumped into the T-33 in his effort to put in enough hours to stay current with his pilot requirements if there wasn't a F-102a jet available for him.
"It's hard to say without having been there," Shepperd said. "This is just speculation, but it may have had to do with the availability of aircraft."
The logs also show that Bush, who throughout his career usually landed his jet with a single pass, required two passes to land the F-102A fighter on March 12 and April 10, 1972. His last flight as an Air National Guard pilot cam,e six days later .
Former Air National Guard chief, retired Maj. Gen. Paul A. Weaver said Bush could have been simply practicing landing skills. "It doesn't mean anything to have multiple approaches," Weaver said.
Whatever the case, Bush stopped flying altogether shortly after the spate of trainer flights in spring 1972. He then skipped a required medical exam, did not appear for any training for six full months, transferred from the Texas Air National Guard to the Alabama National Guard to work on a political campaign and was stripped of his pilot privileges, his officials records show.
White House officials also could not explain the final two entries of Bush's official flight logs that refer to him being assigned to work as an instructional pilot in late May 1972 at a Texas Air National Guard base. Bush actually sought permission and left the base for Alabama before the dates listed on the flight logs and his pay records show he wasn't paid for any work on the two dates of the instructional pilot assignment.
The logs have a code indicating the assignments were eventually deleted from his official records. White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the entries could have been a simple paperwork error.