Former bomber pilot now navigates corridors of power in Washington

Many members of Congress hope that their names will make it into the history books. But freshman Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has already accomplished that goal, albeit outside the political arena. He has three world speed records and plenty of books to his name.  

Stewart is an Air Force veteran, and a former Rockwell B-1B Lancer pilot, or “bone driver.” In 1995, Stewart helped plan and execute a mission code-named “Coronet Bat,” which saw a flight of the swing-wing bombers launch from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, and fly nonstop around the world in 36 hours and 13 minutes. 

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The operation set the speed records for fastest nonstop flights around the world overall, the fastest flight in the B-1B’s weight class and the fastest around-the-world flight for planes capable of aerial refueling. It even won the Mackay Trophy, which is given for “most meritorious flight of the year.” Those accolades were a bonus, though.

“We didn’t set out to set the world speed record,” Stewart told The Hill. “I didn’t go to my boss and say, ‘Hey, I got a great idea! Let’s go set some world records!’”

Coronet Bat was born out of the difficulty of deploying strategic assets into the Middle East in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. At the time, the Air Force was practicing intercontinental bombing missions out of bases in the United States, marathon flights that would take around 20 hours to complete. 

“We were preparing for one of these missions and I thought, ‘We’re about a third of the way around the world. Let’s keep going.’ That’s what drove it. Let’s push the crews, let’s push the aircraft, see [what] a long-range, long-endurance kind of high-stress mission would do,” Stewart said. 

The speed record possibilities only became apparent during the planning process. 

“We realized, ‘Hey, I think we can do this faster than anyone’s ever done it before.’ We went and did a little research and realized yeah, [we would] trash the previous record,” Stewart said. 

And trash it they did. The Lancers, known affectionately among their pilots as “Bones” (a nickname born of apocryphal origins; an early newspaper article on the airplane allegedly spelled its designation phonetically as “B-one”), successfully bombed targets in three different bombing ranges on three continents. The 20,100-mile trip required six midair refuelings. By the end, fatigue made keeping the aircraft steady difficult and, according to Stewart, “Our last air refueling […] we were all over the sky.” The crewmembers had their health monitored throughout.

 Stewart’s talents were not limited to the cockpit, though. Inspired by the techno-thrillers he’d read, including those by fellow Air Force veteran Dale Brown, Stewart decided he would try his hand at writing a novel of his own one summer.

“Around Christmastime, my wife came up and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I think I’m writing a book,’ ” Stewart laughed.

He ultimately completed two books during his time in the Air Force, which went on to become his first two published novels: Shattered Bone and The Kill Box. Up to that point, the books had been a project, not a source of income. 

As Stewart recalls, “It wasn’t until my second book came out that I thought, ‘I could make a living doing this.’ ”

Stewart’s literary career took off just as well as one of his bombers at full afterburner. The retired pilot has over a dozen books to his name now and can claim the title of New York Times bestselling author. Glenn Beck’s Mercury Ink imprint is even rereleasing his signature series, The Great and Terrible, as an e-book series under the name Wrath and Righteousness. It is his nonfiction books that have garnered him more publicity lately, however. He has written a pair of books with his brother Ted, a U.S. District Court Judge: Seven Miracles That Saved America, and Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points That Saved the World. 

Stewart is quick to clarify that the miracles he has written about do not have an evangelical connotation. Rather, they are times and events where the outcome for the U.S. was uncertain. 

The miracles aren’t on the fantastic level of “parting the Red Sea,” Stewart said, “but just this idea that God is interested in our nation and wanted to preserve it, so at critical times in our history he helped us preserve ourselves.”

The last miracle listed in Seven Miracles That Saved America, for example, is Ronald Reagan surviving an assassination attempt; John Hinckley’s .22-caliber bullet lodged in the Gipper’s left lung, a small distance away from his heart. 

“A lot of us are pretty comfortable thinking of the miracle of the Constitution,” Stewart said, “but we wanted to show miracles in more modern times, too.”

That all goes back to Stewart’s belief in American exceptionalism, a belief that was reinforced during his deployments overseas. 

“If you have this idea, ‘Oh, that means we’re special or better than other people,’ I don’t mean it that way at all,” Stewart elucidates. “I mean it in the sense [that] we have a responsibility that other nations may not have. To help other nations, to be an example to other nations, to show them how a democracy should function.” 

Yet, despite his military service, hefty bibliography, and profession of divine concern in the country’s affairs, Stewart doesn’t consider himself a warrior-poet. When asked if he viewed himself through that lens, he found the question humorous. 

“I have never thought of myself as a warrior-poet, I can tell you that,” Stewart chuckled.