On the office wall of HSE Transportation Director Jim White is a motivational print of a young boy standing in front of an enormous aircraft with the phrase, “Dream Big: you never know where dreams can take you”, printed beneath. It’s actually a photo of White’s grandson standing in front of a plane that White has flown that is now on display at the Wright Patterson USAF museum in Dayton, Ohio. White jokes, “You know you’re getting old when planes you’ve flown have been retired to a museum.” The giant C-141 cargo plane isn’t the only plane at Wright-Patterson that White has flown. There is an Air Force One hangar across the grounds that houses one of the back up planes when White was a presidential support pilot. In fact, it’s the Air Force One plane that Kennedy had flown to Dallas on that fateful trip.
Jim White grew up in Lafayette, where he attended Purdue University. There he met his wife, Ann. After graduation they married and White enlisted in the Air Force. The year was 1971 and the draft was still in place. Being near the end of the Vietnam War, White took the initiative to join the Air Force to become a pilot.
White’s Air Force experience was both unique and record setting. Initially White began training in a T-38, a supersonic fighter type aircraft, transitioning then to the C-141 transport aircraft. His first assignments were airlifts in and out of southeast Asia, at the end of Vietnam. White was involved with many humanitarian missions as well as top secret missions.
White was trained as an expert nuclear pilot and evaluator. White was the first commanding pilot of a nuclear laden aircraft for air refueling while flying across the Atlantic. According to White, flying a plane weighing 250,000 pounds at 25,000 feet, and being 20 feet away from a similar plane that you are tethered to while fuel is being pumped into your aircraft – a plane that also contains nuclear weapons – is apparently rather stressful. The 30 minutes it takes to refuel seems like eight hours according to White. Simultaneously his aircraft is becoming heavier, requiring consistent adjustments and never taking his eyes off the aircraft in front of him. I’m not sure he blinked during those moments of intense focus.
As part of an elite fraternity within the Air Force, White is the only presidential support pilot from Indiana. This included flying Air Force Two under President Reagan for then Vice President Bush and subsequent VP Dan Quayle. White also flew many other dignitaries and heads of state around the country and world. There are not many locations around the globe that White has not visited. White spent the last few years of his Air Force career as director of nuclear airlift at headquarters. He served as airlift director during the Desert Storm Operation.
Upon retiring from the Air Force after a career spanning 22 years, the White family moved back home to Indiana to be closer to family. White taught aviation technology at Purdue earning top honors as a Professor of the Year in 1999. He’s also quite popular with both HSE students and parents with the two-hour school delay calls. The high schools even sell ‘Jim White is my BFF’ t-shirts.
With 280 buses and 350 personnel, HSE Transportation is not a small operation. In the past 10 years, White has helped the transportation department expand by 60 percent to keep up with the demands of the district. White can’t say enough about the people he works with. “I’m blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful personnel.”
Whether the safety concerns and logistics involve presidents, nuclear weapons or even more valuable cargo – our children, Jim White has a most impressive safety background. White has come full circle not only to his Indiana roots, but to his extensive background in transportation safety. We should all give thanks that he’s more than qualified for carrying our precious cargo!