Air Force One (a modified Boeing 747-200), visiting Paris in 2008

Air Force One (a modified Boeing 747-200), visiting Paris in 2008

Happy President’s Day! I figured this would be a good excuse to take a look at the aircraft that have been used to fly the President of the United States around the world since 1943.

First off, I realize that any US Air Force aircraft the president is in, is called “Air Force One.” For the sake of this post, when I will be talking about the aircraft whose sole mission is to safely fly the President of the United States to his destination, I will refer to this particular aircraft as “Air Force One.”

The first Air Force One has its roots in 1943, when Franklin D Roosevelt was the first president to fly while in office. He flew on a Pan-Am Boeing 314 5,500 miles to Morocco. Previously presidents did not fly, because airplanes were not well equipped with communication devices. That changed for Roosevelt, when the threat of German U-Boats made him think twice about going via boat.

Thinking that commercial air travel was not reliable enough to transport the President of the US, the Air Force converted a Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express to be used to transport Roosevelt on international flights. However, the C-87 was not known for a stellar safety record and the Secret Service refused to let Roosevelt fly on the aircraft. Instead, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster (DC-4) was converted to fly the president around the world. Roosevelt flew on the C-54 Skymaster, called “Sacred Cow”, only once before his death in the spring of 1945. In 1947 Harry S Truman replaced the C-54 with a modified VC-118 Liftmaster (DC-6).

Before an incident in 1953, the president’s aircraft all had standard flight numbers, like any commercial airline flight. The Dwight D Eisenhower administration changed that, when he was flying on Air Force Flight 8610 and an Eastern Airlines flight with the same number received similar orders and got too close to the president’s aircraft. After that, any flight that held the president would be called “Air Force One.”

Eisenhower added the Lockheed C-121 Constellations to the presidential fleet in the mid 50’s and then the Boeing 707 was added in 1958. In 1962, the John F Kennedy administration created the first aircraft used exclusively for presidential travel. The modified Boeing 707-353B (referred to as SAM 26000) had its livery designed by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the familiar blue, silver and white design.

Eisenhower added the Lockheed Constellation to the Presidential Fleet

Eisenhower added the Lockheed Constellation to the Presidential Fleet

During the Reagan administration, a new plane was requested for the president. They wanted a minimum of three engines, wide-bodied and a range of at least 6,000 miles. Boeing proposed the Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas pushed the DC-10. Boeing won the proposal and the US government ordered two identical Boeing 747-200’s.

The Boeing 747-200’s (VC-25A) were delivered in 1990 to sitting president, George HW Bush and still remain in service today. The VC-25A’s have been retrofitted and interiors re-done multiple times since 1990. The US Air Force Air Mobility Command (USAF MC) is currently looking at a replacement for the aging Boeing 747’s.

In January 2009, the USAF MC stated they would start flying a new Air Force One by 2017. Shortly after the announcement, Airbus stated it would not be bidding on the contract, leaving only Boeing. It is most likely the Boeing 747-8 will be the replacement, however there is talk the Boeing 787 could be the replacement.

What is your favorite Air Force One aircraft or which would be the best one to use in the future?

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Images: B747 from Three Forty | Constellation from Wikipedia

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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William Thompson

By 2017 the 747-8 technology will be out dated. It may be more likely that a new 777 DreamLiner with newer technology than the 787 DreamLiner and far superior could be the choice.

True that Will, it would be most likely a 747 size but with dreamliner technology, and it wouldnt be the a380 because it cannot travel to all airports. The 747 can fly to most airports in the world where as the a380 can only fly to the biggest of the biggest and the airports willing to spend millions to upgrade.

Given the reality of how the diplomacy world works, we’ll see a 747-8I. The 747 draws attention with its mere shape, while it’s easy to overlook a paint job. I think (sadly) that the job of Air Force One has become visibility in many respects.

I would love to make a coin with the 777 and the 787 on it.

What are the regulations regarding the “personal” use of Air Force I. Is Air Force I the private transportation mode for the president no matter what the occasion or destination. It seems it should be used for US Govt. business only, given the expense involved with military fighter escort and fuel used. Not for trips to town hall meetings and other “campaigning” trips in support of some policy making.

So, can we please see the back of Obama’s 747? Is the American Flag still there? Can anyone find a recent picture of the tail section showing a flag or obama symbol?

Mark Meeker

I thought the livery on VC 137B 26000/27000 were designed by Raymond Lowey?? And not Jackie Kennedy…

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