President Trump on Tuesday announced that he plans to nominate Barbara Barrett, a former chairwoman of the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation, to be the next secretary of the Air Force.
Trump revealed that he has settled on Barrett as the service’s 25th secretary in a tweet Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the conclusion of a farewell ceremony for departing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. Wilson will leave the Air Force at the end of the month to be the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso.
Wilson said in a tweet after the announcement that Barrett was a “Wonderful choice by the President!"
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, applauded Barrett’s choice in a news release Tuesday, and said she had urged Trump to choose her, particularly during a May 17 phone call.
McSally, a former Air Force A-10 pilot, also met with Barrett on May 16 regarding the Air Force secretary job.
“Ambassador Barrett is force to be reckoned with and who has the leadership, experience, and knowledge to lead our Air Force into the future during a time of increased global threats,” McSally said in the release. “I have confidence that Ambassador Barrett will lead the way in maintaining air and space dominance and continue to build upon the initiatives, leadership, and example set forth by Secretary Heather Wilson.”
Barrett has a longstanding interest in aerospace issues, sitting on the boards of the Rand and Aerospace corporations (where she also served with former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley), and acting as a former member of the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board.
The Aerospace Corporation, which has technical experts in every discipline of space-related science and engineering, according to its website, “operate[s] the only federally funded research and development center committed exclusively to the space enterprise.”
Barrett is an instrument-rated pilot. In 2009, she trained at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, and Kazakhstan, and was then certified for space travel. Barrett is also the first civilian woman to land in an F/A-18 Hornet on an aircraft carrier.
In a 2014 interview with Business Jet Traveler, Barrett said she developed an interest in aviation as a child, when her father took her up in a four-seater aircraft.
“I loved it,” Barrett said.
She bought her husband, former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, flying lessons for a Christmas gift one year, and when he didn’t use the lessons, she did. She told Business Jet Traveler that she still flew, though infrequently, with an instructor pilot.
Notably, this isn’t the first time Barrett has been nominated for the secretary role. In 2003, Barrett was nominated by President George W. Bush as secretary, but eventually withdrew her name before going through the confirmation process. She was later confirmed as Bush’s ambassador to Finland.
However, as Trump’s Pentagon team was starting to come together in December 2016, Barrett’s name appeared as a potential nominee. The owner of Montana’s Triple Creek Guest Ranch, Barrett has been a reliably Republican donor, although she does not appear to have given directly to the Trump campaign in 2016.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.