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Air Force One

"the President's airplane"

Air Force One

Officially, "Air Force One" is the call sign of any Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States, but in common use "Air Force One" refers to one of two highly modified Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, which carry the tail codes 28000 and 29000. The Air Force designation for the aircraft is VC-25A.

Aside from the distinctive paint scheme, both presidential jets look like any other Boeing 747-200 on the outside, but they are far from standard passenger jets on the inside. Each plane has 4,000 square feet of usable space on three levels, including a full presidential suite, fully functional medical/surgical suite, a conference room, seating for media personnel, and an impressive array of communications equipment that enables the President to stay in touch with the rest of the government at all times. Because it carries the President, each plane also carries electronic counter measures to jam enemy radar, has the ability to eject flares to throw heat-seeking missiles off course, and can be refueled in flight. Its heavily shielded electronics can withstand the strongest electromagnetic pulses known. Each plane is powered by four General Electric CF6-80C2B1 jet engines that can reach speeds of 630-700 mph. Air Force One can fly half way around the world on a single load of fuel (53,611 gallons).

Air Force One is maintained and operated by the Presidential Airlift Group, which is part of the White House Military Office. The Airlift Group was founded as the Presidential Pilot Office at the direction of President Franklin D. Roosecelt in 1944. The first presidential plane was a C-54 Skymaster, followed by a -118 Liftmaster (1947-1953), two C-121 Constellations (1953-1961), and a variety of other propeller-driven aircraft. The call sign "Air Force One" came into use after an incident in 1953 when "Air Force 8610" and an Eastern Airlines "8610" were both in use at the same time by the same air traffic control center.

All of the first presidential airplanes were civilian aircraft bought by the federal government for the President's use. President John F. Kennedy was the first to fly in a plane specially modified to carry the President, in 1962. Kennedy designed the paint scheme for the Boeing 707, and it was he who directed that the plane proudly bear "United States of America," the U.S. flag, and the presidential seal. That same Boeing 707 brought Kennedy's body back to Washington, D.C. after his assassination on November 22, 1963, and Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office as President aboard the plane; that first Air Force One also carried Johnson's body back to Texas following a state funeral on January 24, 1973.

The current Air Force Ones were built at the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington, and modified at Boeing's Wichita, Kansas, facility. They were delivered to President George H.W. Bush in 1990, who took his first flight in the new aircraft on September 6, 1990. When not in use by the President, they are housed and maintained at Andrews Air Force Base.

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The Robinson Library >> Aircraft and Aircraft Companies, A-Z

This page was last updated on 06/10/2018.