Air Force One

The plane that the President of the United States flies in is called Air Force One. However, ‘Air Force One’ is not technically an airplane. It is the radio call name for any US Air Force plane carrying the President. Thus, when President George W. Bush landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, the two seater F-16 fighter was Air Force One.

Today, there are two planes that regularly fly under the designation. Both are Boeing 747-200B jets. The planes have tail numbers 28000 and 29000 and both are designated VC025A.

Historically, the President rarely traveled far from home. Trips to other countries took too long and communications technology was more or less non-existent. The President was thus cut off from the government.

As commercial aviation grew and with it increases in communications, it became feasible for the President to fly to other countries and return in good time. In 1943, due to German U-Boats making sea journeys too dangerous, President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew to a wartime conference in Casablanca on a Boeing 314 ‘flying boat’.

The success of this trip established air travel as the preferred mode for the President. The Air Force originally selected a C-87A Liberator Express, which was essentially a reconfigured B-24 bomber, but when another crashed mysteriously, they switched to a C-54 Skymaster.

The plane was configured for Roosevelt and was complete with sleeping quarters, a radio telephone and an elevator for Roosevelt‘s wheelchair. They plan was christened ‘The Sacred Cow’. It carried Roosevelt to the Yalta conference along with members of his staff and press corps.

President Harry S. Truman inherited the ‘Sacred Cow’ and flew it for some time. It was then replaced by a modified DC-6 which Truman named ‘Independence’ He also had it decorated patriotically, complete with an eagles head on the nose. President Dwight D. Eisenhower added two more propeller driven planes to the fleet and upgraded the communications equipment.

In 1958, the Air Force introduced two Boeing 707 jets to the fleet along with more advanced communications equipment. It was at this time that the Air Force began using the radio call designation ‘Air Force One.’

In 1960, at the beginning of this term, President John F. Kennedy began to use a more advanced long-range 707. The planes also got an aesthetic redesign with the blue and white decorations still used today. A twin of the plane was added in 1972.

Both have figured in moments of great historical impact. The first plane flew Kennedy to Dallas on November 22, 1963, and brought his body back later that day. During the flight, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President. The twin carried President Richard Nixon from Washington to California after his resignation. Mid-flight the crew learned that Gerald Ford had been sworn in and changed their radio call for Air Force One to SAM (special air mission) 27000.

The twin 707’s continued to serve Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and George Bush Sr. They were replaced by the Air Force in 1990 with the 747’s in use today. The planes each have four G.E. CF6-90C2 BI jet engines, with a top speed of 630 to 700 mph and a ceiling maximum of 45,100 feet. It can carry 53,611 gallons of fuel and weighs 833,000 pounds when fully loaded for a long-range mission.

As with a normal 747, there are three levels. The lowest level mostly serves as cargo space, including food storage for up to 2000 meals. The middle level is mostly passenger room, and the upper mostly for communications equipment. There is over 4000 square feet of interior floor space.

The President has onboard living quarters with his own bedroom, bathroom, and workout room and office space. The staff meets in a large conference room which doubles as the President’s dinning room. Senior staff have their own office area and the rest have work and relaxation space. There is separate space for reporters traveling with the President. Overall, the plane can comfortably carry seventy passengers and twenty-six crewmembers.

The plane has significant onboard medical technology, including a pharmacy, ER equipment and a fold out operating table. A staff doctor travels with the President wherever he goes. On every mission, the plane is equipped for a wide range of emergencies.

There is also extensive advanced communications technology on board, as well as in-flight refueling capability. There are also classified aspects of the plane; namely the advanced avionics and defense systems. The plane as now equipped has the capabilities of acting as a mobile command bunker, capable of remaining in the air indefinitely and since the President always travels with ‘the football’, the briefcase carrying the codes for nuclear deployment, can become the temporary command center in case of war.


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