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.
Air Force One arriving at King County International Airport on October 9, 2015 -Photo: Francis Zera | Airline Reporter
There are few aircraft as readily identifiable as the 747-200B/VC-25 known as Air Force One (even though there are actually two of them; more on that in a bit). The aircraft is designed to ferry the President of the United States, other elected and government officials, VIPs, and the White House press corps, anywhere in the world and in high style.
Any U.S. Air Force aircraft in which the president is flying carries the call sign Air Force One. But it’s the two VC-25s that are the flagship aircraft most of the world will immediately recognize as being the primary mode of transport for the current US president.
President Obama arriving in Seattle via Air Force One – Photo: Francis Zera | Airline Reporter
Suffice it to say that, wherever Air Force One shows up, interest (and security) are high. For the recent Seattle visit, on October 9th, local AvGeek interest was strong, and at least one of the sanctioned airport viewing areas was kept open for public viewing.
Speaking of security, there are two identical VC-25s, one with tail number 28000 and the other 29000. Whenever the president is traveling on one of them, the other is usually stationed somewhere in the region nearby as a backup. There are duplicate sets of presidential motorcade vehicles as well.
Below is a series of images from the president’s recent three-hour fundraising visit to Seattle.
The 747-8 will be the Air Force One replacement to carry around the U.S. President – Image: Jon Ostrower
The United States Air Force (USAF) announced the long-awaited decision of what aircraft will serve as the replacement for the presidential transport, known as Air Force One (when the President is on-board). The choice has taken longer than most expected and the answer seemed quite obvious.
The USAF announced that the Boeing 747-8 will be the sole choice as the base aircraft for replacement of the current aircraft, the VC-25A (a modified 747-200).
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
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