Flying the chief
Local writer Jackie Boor collaborated with former White House senior helicopter pilot Lt. Col. Gene Boyer to write a book that chronicles Boyer’s life, his experiences serving the White House, and the history and evolution of the helicopter. Inside the President’s Helicopter provides a fresh perspective on many well-known historical events, including President Richard Nixon’s resignation—Boyer was the pilot who flew him off the White House lawn. The book also focuses on the personal and human aspects of an extremely high-profile, high-adventure job. Apparently, even Colin Powell has a copy.
What was the writing process like?
In the last three years, I made 14 trips to Los Angeles where I would stay with [Col. Boyer] for 10 to 14 days, and we would go through his photo albums and his boxes of documents, and he would talk and I would write. The whole process took a good two years of researching, interviewing, refining, polishing, editing.
How did you become involved in the project?
[Col. Boyer] and I were connected by a journalism teacher at American River College back in 1994. He lived in El Dorado Hills, and he contacted this professor at American River College because he was looking for a writer. He knew he had a good story, and I was hooked instantly.
Did you get to fly in a helicopter?
I didn’t get to fly in a helicopter, no. I got to sit in the seat that he sat in when he flew Nixon off the lawn. But it is something I haven’t done yet, and I hope to.
Does Col. Boyer still fly helicopters?
He’s 81 years old, but if someone invited him on board, he would get in the cockpit. No questions asked.
Are there stories in the book that stand out to you?
One of my favorites is the one about him airlifting an elephant along with some children in Vietnam who he was rescuing, but they didn’t want to leave their elephant behind, so he broke the rules and transported their baby elephant. Or when he was flying in South America where the natives there wanted him to transport an anaconda that they had killed back to the village for dinner, and while he was in the air it seemed to be coming back to life.
Is there a most interesting part?
I think the most interesting part of the book is his commitment to preserve the history of the Army’s service to the White House. A lot of people don’t know that the Army flew for the White House for almost 20 years. Army One has a significant place in history, and I think that’s something that was really foremost in our minds as we wrote this.
What has the response been like?
The response has been tremendous. The Smithsonian just placed their order; it will be in the Smithsonian gift shops. I went back to my hometown of Crescent City and sold 100 copies in four hours. The interest we knew would be there; what we weren’t sure about was how well people would like the story. Former Secret Service agents, military personnel, former helicopter pilots—even Colin Powell has a copy. He dropped me a note and said, “Looking forward to reading it.” Overall, people have said it reads fast. It holds their interest. It gives them insights into a portion of history that no other story does.
Have you done other writing?
This is my first major project, but I’ve been writing all my life. I started out as an editor for my school newspaper and then as a cub reporter for two Northern California newspapers. While I was raising my family, I wrote short stories. I did a lot of business writing, copywriting, proposal writing, and then in the last 10 years I’ve gotten very interested in screenplays.
Do you think there will be a screenplay adaptation of this book?
I hope there will be a screenplay of this. We have interest by one of Ron Howard’s producers, who asked us to send the book directly to Ron Howard, who did Frost/Nixon. [Col. Boyer] consulted on that movie. So we’re hoping that Hollywood will see some potential there, because there is a lot of drama and adventure.
Why should people read the book?
A lot of folks see these helicopters flying around and they see a machine. What this book tells us is that there’s a human in the cockpit. They have their own story as to how they got there, and their own challenges as to how they make this look so simple. And it’s not simple.