Air Force One landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Being a photojournalist can mean a lot of stressful work, but it definitely has its perks — and one of the best experiences for an AvGeek photojournalist is being approved for White House press credentials and covering a presidential visit. I’ve been lucky enough to do that three times, and it never, ever, gets old.
This story is not about politics; it’s about the plane, the process of transporting a head of state, and what it’s like to cover the amazing ritual that is an Air Force One arrival/departure sequence.
Presidential travels are never a simple affair; watching the ballet of security and military ritual, one can’t help but to be impressed by the sheer magnitude of managing the task.
Sea-Tac Airport cargo workers push a pallet of freight onto the loading ramp of an China Airlines Cargo 747-400F
In what has become an annual early-summer ritual at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, air cargo operators serving Asian ports have increased operations in Seattle for the duration of the roughly two-month long Washington state cherry harvest.
Pallets of cherries destined for Asian markets await shipment at a Port of Seattle warehouse
Carriers making stops in Seattle to pick up pallets of Washington cherries include EVA Air Cargo, NCA, China Airlines Cargo, and Singapore Airlines Cargo. Freighter loads vary, but seldom are the large jets filled solely with cherries; mixed loads are far more common, especially as routes can include stops in one or more U.S. cities before crossing the Pacific.
Iron Maiden’s custom Boeing 747-400 takes off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Bands customizing big transport jets for tours is nothing new. For instance, Alice Cooper, the Allman Brothers Band, Deep Purple, Elton John, Olivia Newton-John, and Peter Frampton all made use of The Starship (a Boeing 720) back in the 1970s. Legendary metal band Iron Maiden has turned the volume up to 11 with their custom-liveried “Ed Force One” — named after their evil mascot, Eddie.
The long list of cities on the tour is a cool addition to the livery.
What makes Iron Maiden’s tour planes even more unusual is that they’ve been piloted by lead singer Bruce Dickinson, who holds a transport pilot license. Iron Maiden’s last tour made use of a customized 757-200.
After the band’s April 11 show in Tacoma, WA, they made the short hop up to Paine Field in Everett, WA on April 12 for a VIP tour of their bird’s birthplace, the Boeing assembly plant, before leaving the same day for their next tour stop in Denver (Editor’s note: I got to see the beautiful #EdForceOne fly over my Denver office on departure!). Before they left Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, I was able to be there, on the ground, and get some up-close photos of the plane.
ANA’s Star Wars R2-D2 arrives to gate S16 at SeaTac. This was the first time the aircraft had been deployed to Seattle.
My initial assignment, with AirlineReporter long ago, was to cover the arrival of the first ANA 787 to Seattle. It is befitting that my long history with AirlineReporter officially ends with another ANA 787; this time though it is the ultimate 787 – the R2-D2 Star Wars jet.
The special 787-9 rolled out in October and began service later that month to Vancouver. Now that it is operating out in the wild, I eagerly awaited my opportunity to spot it in my current hometown of Seattle. Being a Star Wars and Astromech droid fan myself (R5s are better than R2s in my opinion), how could I not take this on?