President Nixon’s chief Air Force One Pilot, Col. Ralph Albertazzie died at his home in Falling Waters, West Virginia Monday. He was 88.
Assigned to Air Force One in December 1968, Colonel Albertazzie flew the 37th President on trips throughout the country and around the world, most notably the historic mission which opened relations with China in February 1972.

Colonel Jack Brennan, Marine Aide to President Nixon and later post-presidential Chief-of-Staff, said Colonel Albertazzie was a dedicated Air Force officer whose talents were insurmountable.

“He was probably the most talented 707 pilot in America at the time,” Brennan recalled.

“I remember once when we were flying to La Casa Pacifica, the Western White House in San Clemente, and we wanted to land at Orange County Airport; I was told by airport officials the runway wasn’t long enough to handle Air Force One. Col. Albertazzie smiled and said he could do it. He landed half way down the runway and said, ‘see, no problem, Air Force One has special brakes.’ His take offs and landings were always incredibly smooth.”

“He looked like a Presidential pilot,” said Gen. James “Don” Hughes, President Nixon’s Military Assistant and Col. Albertazzie’s direct superior. “He was a great leader, immaculate in his dress, and always in charge of the airplane.”

Gen. Hughes traveled on several major trips with Col. Albertazzie, including Dr. Kissinger’s Polo II mission to China in October 1971, which laid the groundwork for the President’s trip four months later.

“I thought the world of him”…”I hired him on his merits, and he more than exceeded them.”

Nixon Foundation Chairman Ron Walker – who directed all presidential travel – remembers Col. Albertazzie for his professionalism and loyalty to President and First Lady Nixon.

“He was a wonderful man,” said Walker. “Our prayers are with him and his family.”

Read more at The New York Times.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.