Former Aerospace CEO Tapped as Next Air Force Secretary

By Marcus Weisgerber

May 21, 2019

Barbara Barrett, a businesswoman, pilot, former diplomat, and almost-astronaut, has been nominated to be the next U.S. Air Force secretary.

The White House on Monday announced that President Trump had tapped Barrett, who in 2017 stepped down as chairman of the Aerospace Corporation, the nation’s only federally funded research and development center dedicated to space.

Barrett was FAA deputy administrator in the late 1980s, a senior advisor to the United Nations General Assembly in 2006, and U.S. ambassador to Finland from 2008 to 2009. A lawyer, she was founding chairman of Valley Bank of Arizona, interim president of Thunderbird School of Global Management, and CEO of the American Management Association. She is currently a member of the board of RAND Corporation. Her husband, Craig Barrett, was chairman and CEO of Intel.

In 2009, Barrett trained in Russia to be a backup astronaut aboard a Soyuz rocket for a space tourism flight to the International Space Station. In 2010, she told the Ravalli Republic that the Russian company behind the flight contacted her about being a backup for another astronaut.

"Through an unexpected series of circumstances, the Russians had somebody drop out and they offered the spot to me," she told the publication. "I told them I didn't have the money, but that I would help out if they needed it. Quite unexpectedly, they came back and said they needed somebody right now."

A civilian pilot, she landed an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet on the USS Nimitz when she was serving as a civilian advisor to the defense secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs.

If confirmed, Barrett would replace Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who is resigning at the end of May to become the president of the University of Texas at El Paso. Barrett would also be the third consecutive woman to serve as Air Force secretary following Wilson and Deborah Lee James. Air Force Undersecretary Matt Donovan, a retired Air Force colonel and F-15 Eagle pilot, is slated to serve as acting secretary until Barrett is confirmed.

By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

May 21, 2019