- Several people wrote us immediately after the fourth season premiere to let us know that the pilot of Air Force One is a full Colonel and not a General:
We think there might be an answer for this. If a Full Colonel gets a promotion, he becomes a General. Well if the pilot of Air Force One got promoted, he would be a General and might still have his old job until he got reassigned. In at least one previous episode, Bartlet refers to his pilot as a Colonel so the Producers of "The West Wing" knew this information about the pilot's rank at one time. Plus, Bartlet makes a lot of fuss over being flown by a General, the way he would if that were a new thing and he wasn't going to get to say it all the time.
- Brian Esteip emailed us "AF1 Pilot is not a general! He is usually a full colonel."
- Denise Petet wrote "...when interviewing the secretary on the plane, bartlet goes 'we have our own 747 and it's flown by an air force general...well on the last nova special i saw, the pilot of air force one is a colonel not a general."
- Hank Grohman emailed: "Since Inside Air Force One has been on the Discovery Channel a million times. The pilot of Air Force One is a full Air Force Colonel. It is not a General. A General wouldn't being flying Air Force One."
- We received many emails on Donna's description of what a Navy officer would wear including her reverence to a Bronze Cross, a saber and thirteen buttons on his pants.
- BOB!! wrote the following:
- Naval officers carry swords, not sabers.
- There's no such medal as the Bronze Cross (there is such a thing as a Bronze Star, however).
- Navy enlisted men's Dress Blue uniforms have 13 buttons on the trousers, Naval officer's do not.
- Randy Lofton emailed: "Donna's interest in 13 buttons and a sabre are misdirected. Navy Enlisted Dress Uniforms had/have 13 buttons on the the fly flap, not officers dress uniforms. Naval officers wear a sword, not a sabre. As a retired Naval Officer with prior enlisted service I have worn both."
- Charles S. King wrote, "one of the medals mentioned was the 'bronze cross'...well, there just ain't no such critter in the US military decorations/medals list. We have the Bronze Star, the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross.... but there is not now, nor has there ever been, a Bronze Cross. Additionally, much was made of the trousers having thirteen. buttons...sorry...only the enlisted bell bottoms have thirteen buttons (supposedly a tradition recalling the original thirteen states). In my collection of military uniforms, I have had numerous examples of both officer and enlisted naval uniforms from before World War One til the present, and no officer's trousers have ever had the famous thirteen button drop front....in fact, in the late 1960's to early 1070's the Navy tried to get the enlisted sailors into a double breasted coat or jacket, with regular type trousers and a round leather brimmed hat, not unlike that worn by the higher enlisted ranks...the petty officers, but without success...."
- Our own research discovered the following:
- And "D.C." on the West Wing Television Without Pity Forum posted a link to a picture of the famous 13 button trousers that someone was selling on Ebay. We wouldn't have the picture above to illustrate this button arrangement if it weren't for the effort "D.C." put into finding a picture.
- So why did Donna describe things wrong? Well, Donna can't be expected to know the finer points of Navy regulations. Her boyfriend may have said he'd be wearing a sword and she thought "saber" ("saber" might sound more romantic and someone who doesn't know the difference might prefer to use that word). We are sure he told her the Bronze Star but she may not have been paying a lot of attention and when she came to remembering, she may have gotten confused on that. As for the 13 button pants, he may have a pair he wears around the house (you can buy them at Army/Navy stores as Charles S. King pointed out) and she may have thought that the dress uniform would be like them. It is realistic for Donna to have made these mistakes.
- Could Air Force One, or any plane, land on "Runway Three-Niner" as they were going to do in "Angel Maintenance"?
- Peter Mooney wrote, "At the very end of the episode, the Captain announces that they will be circling to land on 'Runway Three-Niner' which is an impossible runway number (they only go up to Three-Six). Andrews Air Force Base has two parallel runways, One-Right, One-Left, One-Niner-Right, and One-Niner-Left."
And Mr. Mooney sent the following links:
- "Here's a fairly simple explanation of how runways are numbered, published by the University of Illinois Institute of Aviation:
- "As part of pre-flight planning, a thorough, safety-minded pilot familiarizes himself with all the available runways along his route, including military facilities. Sources providing this type of information include:
- Russ Hamnett wrote, "Near the conclusion of the Angel Maintenance episode of West Wing... the pilot came on the cabin-PA to announce Air Force One had been cleared to 'runway 39.' Oops! There is no runway anywhere in the world numbered higher than 36. Runways are numbered according to their magnetic compas heading, minus the final or leading zero. So a runway with a heading of 010 magnetic is runway 1; with a heading of 100 it's runway 10; a heading of 180 is runway 18 etc. When you get around to magnetic north, that's 360 (runway 36) then you start all over again with 010, runway 1. There just isn't a compass heading of 390, so there is no runway 39, anywhere."
- Jeff Meyer emailed about the error in "the labeling of a Runway as 'Runway 39.' Runways are based on the magnetic compass headings with which they align (Magnetic heading 090 - runway 09, magnetic heading 270 - Runway 27). A compass only goes up to a 360 heading (Runway 36). There is no runway designation past this. Besides, runway numbers at Andrews are published throughout the world. It would have been easy to select actual runway number at Andrews."
- Government Executive's West Wing Review also caught the mistake. - They wrote, "...there's no 'Runway 39' at Andrews, nor anywhere else for that matter. Runways are designated by their direction on the compass, with the last digit dropped off if necessary. So 36 is the highest possible
number. For the record, Andrews has two parallel runways, which are designated as 1L-19R and 1R-19L."
- According to episode #419, in the last six months of the Vietnam War, the draft that year went to 90 and Toby's draft number was 125.
- Was that an F16 or an F17 outside the window of Air Force One in "Angel Maintenance"?
- Ian C. Crichton wrote "The characters all refer to the military jet that is coming to check on the landing gear as an F-16 Falcon. When the jet finally is shown out the window, it is clearly an F-15 Eagle. The F-15 has twin tails and a long, flat fuselage. The F-16 has only a single tail and a fuselage that is rounded on top. The F-16 is also much shorter than the F-15."
And he sent us the following links to picture so we can judge for ourselves.