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Grand Forks pilot chosen to fly Biden, other VIPs

Tim Parker

Lt. Col. Tim Parker, a 1988 graduate of East Grand Forks (Minn.) Senior High and a tanker pilot at Grand Forks Air Force Base, soon will be flying Vice President Joe Biden around the world, as well as first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Parker has been selected to be part of the 89th Airlift Wing, the Air Force unit tasked with flying around the president, veep and the rest of the top people in American government.

"It's exciting stuff," he said.

It was a hockey scholarship that took Parker to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., two decades ago.

But after two years, shoulder injuries forced him to concentrate on his career as a pilot.

"I spent most of my time in California flying KC-10s, the military version of the DC-10," he said.

He left the Air Force after nine years and flew commercially for Northwest. He now is on military leave from Delta, after re-upping in the Air Force to complete his 20 years. Two years ago, he and his wife, Becky moved back to their hometown with their two boys.

Parker is flying KC-135 air-refueling tankers with the 319th wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base and has 16½ years in the Air Force.

He hasn't flown the C-32, the military version of the Boeing 757 airliner used for Air Force Two. "I've just been on one time for a quick tour and then off," he said. "That will be part of my training."

He was selected for an interview for the 89th Airlift Wing through the Air Force's process, without any civilian or political input.

"It is kind of a neat program," Parker said. "I've got a few friends flying there at the 89th Air Wing at Andrews Air Force Base."

The pilots who fly President Barack Obama also are part of the 89th Wing, and there are several aircraft used by the president, mainly the military version of a Boeing 747. Sometimes, the president might use the C-32. Whichever one the president is on becomes Air Force One for that flight.

"But I won't be flying those missions," Parker said. "It depends on who is actually on board the aircraft."

In addition to the vice president, first lady and secretary of state, Parker also will fly Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.

That he had lots of hours and experience flying the big KC-10s, which haul twice as much as the KC-135s, probably made him "competitive" to get the new assignment flying the big C-32s, Parker said.

He has more than 5,000 hours flying, most of it with the Air Force, but including about 500 hours with Northwest and other commercial airline companies. He's refueled lots of aircraft while flying high over the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

He was interviewed in October, before it was known who would be the next president and vice president.

When Biden's on board, the plane is called Air Force Two. When the first lady or other VIPs are riding, it will have another name.