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Pilot Recalls Flying McGovern In '72 Campaign

November 9, 2012, 4:55 PM by Perry Groten

Pilot Recalls Flying McGovern In '72 Campaign

Long forgotten amid all the accolades about the late Senator George McGovern's public service was a brief controversy in the cockpit during a campaign flight into Sioux Falls.

Al Poshusta, who grew up in Howard, South Dakota, and now lives in Oregon, was the captain of the flight crew that piloted McGovern's presidential campaign plane in 1972.  He crisscrossed the county with McGovern, who himself was a former World War Two bomber pilot.  So Poshusta thought nothing of letting McGovern take the controls for a few minutes on a flight from New York to Sioux Falls.  But that's when the political turbulence hit.

Poshusta received a rousing ovation when Democratic Presidential Nominee George McGovern introduced him to a crowd of supporters at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.  Then McGovern cracked a joke about his flight crew.

"In a month of flying with them, they've only done one reckless thing, they let me fly it for a while today," McGovern said.

That revelation put Poshusta in the hot seat.

Perry Groten: Did you get in trouble?
Poshusta: Oh boy, did I ever!

It was Poshusta's idea for McGovern to take the controls of the Boeing 727.

"C'mon George, sit down.  See what it's like to fly a real airplane," Poshusta said.

The FAA investigated, concerned about a possible safety violation.  But the agency determined that Poshusta and his crew did nothing wrong.

"Yeah, it was on auto pilot!" Poshusta said.     

Despite the flack over that flight, Poshusta still enjoyed piloting McGovern from city to city.

"Normally, our routine is quite simple.  But suddenly, you're flying a VIP and you have a motorcycle escort back to the airplane.  We have throngs of people waiting at the gate just anxious to see the candidate and of course we have one of the best seats in the house to watch all this," Poshusta said.

Poshusta's wife, Sue, even served as McGovern's head flight attendant.  The couple witnessed the rarified air of presidential politics involving another South Dakotan as their passenger.

"Of course I wanted him to win!" Poshusta said.

Four years later, Poshusta served as flight crew captain for Jimmy Carter's Presidential Campaign plane.  Poshusta, who's now 82, retired as an airline pilot in 1990.     
Another South Dakotan, Dean Readmond, was his co-pilot for McGovern's plane.  Readmond now lives in Colorado.

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