Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday on June 12 by making a tandem parachute jump from a Bell 429 light twin near his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush and tandem partner Mike Elliott, a former member of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute squad and current president of the All Veteran Parachute Team, departed the 429 from 6,300 feet msl and landed uneventfully on the grounds of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, where Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush were married almost 70 years ago. Mrs. Bush and many members of the former President’s family were present at the drop zone.
It was Bush’s first jump from a helicopter and eighth parachute jump since he was shot down while piloting a Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber in World War II. He last jumped in 2009 on his 85th birthday. Bush’s tandem jump was the second known one from a 429. Bell CEO John Garrison and Elliott made the first jump last summer during the Fort Worth-Alliance airshow in Texas.
The 429 used on June 12 is owned by Bell parent company Textron, based in Providence, R.I., and was piloted by David Nigiri, Textron’s director of aviation, and Chad Oakley, Bell Helicopter’s chief flight instructor. The executive interior and a rear door were removed to accommodate the jump. The jump load included the pilots, a Secret Service agent who did not jump, Bush and Elliott, and two single jumpers who photographed the event. An All Veterans King Air was used to fly support, measure winds and monitor conditions.
“It was quite a memorable day,” Oakley told AIN. “This all happened pretty quickly.” Elliott approached Oakley to arrange the jump May 30. Oakley flew paraops for the Marine Corps in CH-46 helicopters and C-130s before retiring from the active military and reserves. Oakley said the jump load helicopter climbed to altitude and made one dry pass and then came around for the actual jump. Bush and Elliott departed the left side of the aircraft. Oakley said that Bush “had a blast.”
Bush is the 41st President of the United States. He served from 1989 to 1993.