Politicians & Planes

<BR cmid="Article:Two Deck"><SPAN class=twodeck cmid="Article:Two Deck">Pilot in command</SPAN>

February 24, 2010

Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie joined American Airlines in 1988 and is now a captain, flying the MD-80.

It had been a relaxing holiday weekend for many Vermonters, but Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie had spent much of that weekend in the air.

When he arose before a joint session of the Vermont legislature to introduce the governor’s budget address, Dubie had recently returned from a two-day trip as captain of an American Airlines MD-80. Just a few days earlier, he was shooting a Category III approach into Dallas with a runway visual range of 800 feet and 142 souls on board; the airplane in line to land after him missed the approach. Add to that the FAA examiner who rode along for one of the legs of his trip, and Dubie had handled his share of pressure.

As an American Airlines captain, a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, and the lieutenant governor of Vermont, Dubie wears many hats. He carries three Blackberries: one for his duties in the Reserves, one for personal and political purposes (Dubie is running for governor), and one for his role as chair of the state’s homeland security advisory committee. He draws a direct comparison between taking charge as a pilot and assuming leadership roles in government.

Some people are just structured to make decisions, he said, and pilots are among them. “We don’t really have the luxury of having a bad day,” he said.

Green Mountain Boy

As a career pilot and a supporter of aviation education, Dubie takes part in Vermont’s Aviation Career Education camp, a program designed to introduce students ages 11 to 14 to aviation career opportunities. At the end of each weeklong event, he tells the students a story from his early days in the Vermont Air National Guard to show them they can do whatever they set their minds to do.

“When I showed up at pilot training, my life’s goal was to be a pilot,” he said, explaining later the story he tells to the young potential pilots. Military pilot training was difficult—the program started with 100 candidates and finished with 48, he recalled—and if a student busted three rides, he washed out of the program. One way to bust a ride was to get airsick.

 Dubie (right) flew the F-4 Phantom and the F-16 Falcon fighter in the Air National Guard. He served alongside his brother Michael (left), now the adjutant general of Vermont.

Dubie climbed into a T-37 for his first military training flight on a hot summer day. After flying the pattern for a while with his instructor, he began to feel the effects of the heat. On the last pattern, the instructor turned to him and asked him how he felt. Increasingly queasy, he set the switch to “cold mic.”

“At that moment, I blew chow,” Dubie said, telling the story in his Montpelier office. “I filled my cheek.” But he didn’t acknowledge to the instructor that he was sick.

“I swallowed hard and said, ‘I’m feeling great.’ … I didn’t bust that ride. I didn’t bust any ride,” he said.

It’s a story the children appreciate more than adults, Dubie said, and it illustrates the determination that carried him through pilot training and set him on a course to fly the F-4 Phantom and later the F-16 Falcon fighter in the Guard.

Dubie served in the Guard from 1982 to 1998, including a time in the 1980s of heightened tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Sitting in his state house office this winter with pictures of fighter jets gracing the walls, he recalled scrambling on Soviet Bear bombers at 2 a.m. to intercept them at the height of the Cold War, and dropping sonar buoys capable of detecting enemy submarines. “That’s pretty serious stuff for a Vermonter,” Dubie said.

A fifth generation Vermonter and the son of a colonel in the Guard, Dubie saw the Guard as a logical choice after college: an opportunity to serve his country while staying rooted in his home state. Vermont Guardsmen are known affectionately as the “Green Mountain Boys,” after the famous Revolutionary War-era militia led by Ethan Allen. So while he was a student at the University of Vermont, he signed up.

In the Guard, he served alongside his brother Michael. Each of the two brothers has logged more than 2,000 hours in fighter aircraft, and Michael is now a major general and the adjutant general of Vermont, responsible for the 4,000 members of the Vermont Army and Air National Guard. One of Dubie’s duties as lieutenant governor is to act as liaison to the adjutant general, his brother.

‘The ultimate machine’

Dubie’s interest in aviation began when he was a child, looking up at military aircraft at the Burlington airport. His father was not a pilot, but his position in the Guard meant the children were often able to watch the airplanes take off and land. When he was a teenager, Dubie began tinkering with cars—all told, he and his brothers fixed up 17 cars in high school, he said—and became interested in mechanical engineering. It didn’t take long for him to put the two interests together.

“What’s the ultimate machine? It’s definitely an airplane,” he said. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1982. But before he could begin military pilot training, he had to master the basics in a Cessna 172.

Dubie started training through the flying club at the Burlington airport, the same place he had watched airplanes take off and land as a child. Instructor Chuck Bolton said that even then Dubie was an above-average student who was committed to the mission of completing training.

“It was about responsibility and it was about attitude, and it was about getting the job done,” Bolton said. He said he was confident that Dubie would follow through and be a good pilot.

“He had good instincts. There’s no question he had good instincts.”

Dubie rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was a commander in the Guard, and during that time he took a job as an engineer designing jet fuel systems at Simmonds Precision (now Goodrich Aerospace) in Vergennes, Vt. In 1988 he joined American Airlines and has been flying for the airline ever since. He said his career as a pilot allows him to be a living piece of the transportation infrastructure.

“It’s very fulfilling—it’s a great way to serve people, too,” he said.

Dubie with a friend’s Mooney and sons Matt (on his shoulders) and Jack (standing). Matt is now in the ROTC program at Georgia Tech and has signed a letter to fly the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter in the Vermont National Guard.

Answering the call

Dubie joined the Air Force Reserves in 1998 and became an emergency preparedness officer in the National Security Emergency Preparedness Agency. He said his leadership position in civilian life helps him act as a bridge between military and civilian authorities in times of crisis—whether man-made or natural disasters. Dubie has dealt with both.

Dressed in his American Airlines uniform, Dubie was about to step onto an MD-80 at Logan International Airport in Boston the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when word came of the terrorist attacks in New York. He went to an office with the woman in charge of operations there, and the phone rang. It was Peggy Ogonowski, the wife of Dubie’s friend and coworker John Ogonowski. John was the captain of American Airlines Flight 11, the first airplane to crash into the World Trade Center.

Dubie called the couple’s children’s school and went to be with the family of his friend. His Air Force Reserve beeper went off, and he was told to go to New York.

“I said, ‘I’m busy,’” Dubie recalled. He spent the day with the family and deployed later that evening, arriving at the Federal Emergency Management Agency office in Maynard, Mass., still wearing his American Airlines uniform. 

When it became clear that the rescue crews at Ground Zero needed more radios, Dubie coordinated with New York City and a Motorola factory in Florida to get the equipment to deliver to first responders.

He told the Florida Guard he needed the radios by the next day, but the agency needed the authorization number to dispatch pilots to New York. A delay in getting the number was holding up the delivery, so Dubie gave his name and Social Security number to the person on the telephone and said he would take responsibility for the shipment. After an overnight flight, the radios arrived to first responders the next day. Dubie earned the Meritorious Service Medal, First Oak Cluster, for his actions responding to the attack in New York.

Four years later, Dubie was again called upon to respond to disaster. This time he deployed to the Gulf Coast to offer help to the area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. It was his job to ensure that if civilian authorities in the area needed something, the Air Force would provide it, he said.

“Aviation is so critical to helping people who need help,” Dubie said.

Dubie chairing a hearing of the Aerospace States Association on Capitol Hill. To his right is Lt. Gov. James R. “Duke” Aiona Jr. of Hawaii.

‘Eyes like an eagle’

When Dubie uses the state’s Cessna 182 for official travel or assessing the damage of flooding or ice, Aviation Operations Manager Guy Rouelle of the Vermont Agency of Transportation often accompanies him in the cockpit. Rouelle is also a designated pilot examiner and has made note of Dubie’s approach to flying.

“He’s a very regimented, very structured, very situationally aware, in-tune pilot,” Rouelle said. “ … He has eyes like an eagle—typical F-16 pilot.” He drew a connection to Dubie’s involvement in aviation issues: His vision is very clear for aviation, too, Rouelle added.

Dubie sees aviation and aerospace as a big part of Vermont’s future, both economically and educationally. He founded the Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association (VAAA) in 2006 to stimulate economic development and job growth in the aerospace and aviation sector and to get more students interested in aviation- or aerospace-related subjects such as math, science, and engineering. Vermont is a state for aviation, just as it is a state for agricultural products such as dairy or maple syrup, he said. (Dubie himself is a sugar-maker; he owns and operates Dubie Family Sugarworks with his brother Mark.)

Tokens of aviation and aerospace’s contributions to the Vermont economy sit on display in Dubie’s office in Montpelier: A turbine blade made by GE in Rutland makes for a rather unusual pen holder, and a model of a telecommunications satellite sits on his desk. Dubie worked with a Virginia-based company to launch the satellite from French Guiana in 2009; the company will pilot its new satellite-based cell phone technology in Vermont to improve cell service in remote areas of the state.

Dubie worked on the satellite project as chair of the Aerospace States Association (ASA), an organization of lieutenant governors and state appointed delegates supporting state aerospace initiatives that enhance education and economic development opportunities. Charles Huettner, executive director of ASA, said Dubie has transformed the organization with his leadership.

“He is just an incredible dynamo and has a tremendous passion for aviation,” Huettner said. “… Here is a guy who has a maple sugar operation, he’s an American Airlines captain, he’s flown F-16s and light airplanes and is lieutenant governor of his state, and I will just say he spends a tremendous amount of time on the Aerospace States Association.” The organization has done work to get the youth of America interested in math and science at an early age and prepare them for aerospace careers, he said.

One young person in particular has taken the lesson to heart: Dubie’s son, now a student at Georgia Tech, is in the ROTC program and has signed a letter to fly the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter.

Pilot in command

As second-in-command in Vermont, Dubie compares his role to that of a copilot: He is aggressive and assertive in presenting his perspective, but at the end of the day there’s only one captain. That captain, Gov. Jim Douglas, retires next year, and Dubie hopes to take his place.

Dubie sees a clear parallel between the qualities that make a good pilot and the skills that make a good leader; he tracks his accomplishments as lieutenant governor in what he calls his “logbook,” and he maps out the future in his “flight plan.” If he wins the governor’s seat in November, he will take leave from his job at American Airlines, but he’ll take the lessons he learned in the pilot’s seat with him.