Chief Astronaut to Bizjet Owner: Charlie Precourt’s Story

From a career as an astronaut to flying a Cessna Citation CJ1+ to support his business activities, Fabrizio Poli uncovers the inspiring story of Charlie Precourt...

Fabrizio Poli  |  11th March 2024
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    Fabrizio Poli
    Fabrizio Poli

    Fabrizio Poli is Senior Consultant at Orville Aviation. He is also an Airline Transport Pilot. Mr. Poli...

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    From astronaut to private jet owner

    A name synonymous with space exploration, Charlie Precourt has not only left an indelible mark on the cosmos but also soared through the skies as an avid aviator.

    With a distinguished career as an astronaut for NASA, Charlie held several management positions within the organization, including Deputy Program Manager for the International Space Station, Chief of the Astronaut Corps, and Director of Operations for NASA at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.

    Seamlessly blending his love for space and aviation made Charlie a unique figure in the aerospace community. In addition to his remarkable space missions, he is deeply involved with the Citation Jet Pilots Association, showcasing his commitment to the world of private aviation and flying his own Cessna Citation CJ1+.

    Charlie graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1977 with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He was an F-15 pilot, instructor, flight commander, and a graduate of the US Air Force Test Pilot School.

    Since he began flying in his teens with his father, Charlie has amassed over 11,000 hours in over 90 different types of aircraft, including the F-15, F-4, F-16, A-7, Spitfire, P-51 Mustang, Mig-21, L-39, U-2, several Cessna Citation models, C-141 and KC-135, the Gulfstream GII, and numerous other light aircraft and gliders.

    His journey into the realms of space began with his selection as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1990. At NASA, Charlie qualified as an astronaut in 1991 and is a veteran of four Space Shuttle missions, completing his first in 1993 on Columbia before piloting Atlantis for the first Shuttle docking with the Mir Space Station in 1995.

    He would command two more docking missions to the Mir Space Station on Atlantis and Discovery.

    Retiring as an Air Force Colonel in 2000, Charlie eventually left NASA in 2005 – but not before becoming Program Manager for Orion, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, under NASA’s Space Exploration initiative.

    Charlie’s leadership and technical expertise earned him the respect of his peers and solidified his legacy in the annals of space exploration.

    Boosting Business with Aircraft Ownership

    It was after leaving NASA and joining what is now Northrop Grumman to run the propulsion systems business that Charlie bought himself a Mooney to fly to meetings more efficiently. After a few years with the Mooney he bought a Piper Malibu Mirage before eventually graduating to a Cessna Citation CJ1+.

    Using his aircraft for business purposes, he cites the example of a time he was working for Northrop Grumman and needed to fly to Huntsville in Alabama to meet with key client NASA. Aboard the airlines, the journey would require a connecting flight from Atlanta or Nashville from his Utah home, taking three days to complete the return trip.

    Owning a private airplane was a game-changer, though. Enjoying the flexibility of flying to his schedule, he arrived in Huntsville for a noon meeting before flying on to Washington, DC on the same day, packing in two or three meetings in a single overnight trip. “I did that a lot and it really paid big dividends,” he adds.

    Having since retired as Vice President & General Manager of the Propulsion Systems business at Northrop Grumman, Charlie currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and as the Chair of the Safety Committee for the Citation Jet Pilots Association.

    Sitting on Boards of various other companies and organizations, too, Charlie says that his jet gives him so much more flexibility – flexibility that allows him to take on multiple roles.

    He flies his CJ1+ approximately 250 hours per year out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and says the jet saves him “stacks of time”. Essentially, he argues, the CJ1+ pays for itself, putting more money in his pocket than would be possible if he flew at the mercy of the scheduled airlines’ hub-and- spoke system all the time.

    Charlie's involvement with the Citation Jet Pilots Association (CJP) goes beyond mere membership, and he actively participates in events, seminars, and training sessions, sharing his insights into flying Cessna Citation jets and staying abreast of the latest developments in aviation technology.

    This involvement not only reflects his dedication to the community but also showcases his commitment to promoting safe and responsible flying practices. Charlie champions safety initiatives, contributes to training programs, and advocates for best practices within the Citation pilot community.

    (For a third year in a row, CJP members have not had any incidents or accidents – a remarkable record for the 1,358 members who fly 954 Citation jets between them.)

    The impact Charlie has on the association is undeniable, and his insights from astronaut training combined with piloting such a diverse range of aircraft are proving invaluable.

    The Intersection of Space & Aviation

    Charlie Precourt's life story epitomizes the seamless integration of two worlds – the vast expanse of space and the boundless skies of aviation. His experiences as an astronaut have undoubtedly influenced his approach to flying, bringing a unique perspective to the cockpit.

    His ability to bridge these two realms serves as an inspiration to aspiring astronauts and aviators alike, emphasizing the interconnectedness of exploration and the thrill of flight.

    Charlie’s contributions to space exploration have left an indelible mark on history, while his involvement with the Citation Jet Pilots Association reflects a continued passion for flying.

    As a pioneer in both space and aviation, Charlie Precourt's legacy will undoubtedly inspire future generations to reach for the stars and navigate the skies with the same enthusiasm and determination that has defined his extraordinary career.

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