Air Force One

From Academic Kids

This article is about the aircraft. For the movie, see Air Force One (movie). For the shoe, see Air Force 1.
Air Force One
Air Force One flying over .
Air Force One flying over Mount Rushmore.
Name: Air Force One
Primary function: Presidential air transport
Contractor: Boeing
Power plant: Four General Electric CF6-80C2B1 jet engines
Thrust: 56,700 lbf (250 kN) per engine
Length: 231 ft, 10 in (70.7 m)
Height: 63 ft, 5 in (19.3 m)
Wingspan: 195 ft, 8 in (59.6 m)
Speed: 630 mph (Mach 0.92)
Ceiling: 45,100 ft (13,700 m)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 833,000 lb (375,000 kg)
Range: 7,800 statute miles (6,800 nautical miles or 12,550 km) Note: it can be fueled in-flight so it has an essentially limitless range.
Crew: 26
Total capacity: 102
Introduction: December 8, 1990 (No. 28000)
December 23, 1990 (No. 29000)
Deployment: September 6, 1990 (No. 28000)
March 26, 1991 (No. 29000)
Inventory: 2

Air Force One is the air traffic control callsign of any U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. Since 1990, the presidential fleet has consisted of two specifically-configured, highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft—tail numbers 28000 and 29000—with Air Force designation VC-25A. While these planes are only referred to as "Air Force One" while the president is on board, the term is commonly used to describe any of two aircraft normally used by and maintained by the U.S. Air Force solely for the president.

The VC-25A is capable of flying 12,600 km (7,800 miles) — roughly one-third of the distance around the world — without refueling and can accommodate more than 70 passengers. Before these planes entered service, two Boeing 707-320B-type aircraft — tail numbers 26000 and 27000—had operated as Air Force One starting in 1962. Since its inception, Air Force One has become a symbol of presidential power and prestige.



These aircraft are maintained and operated as military operations by the Presidential Airlift Group, part of Air Mobility Command's 89th Airlift Wing, based at Andrews Air Force Base in Suitland, Maryland. The President is often flown in a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter, callsign Marine One, between the Andrews AFB and the White House.

Similarly, a U.S. Army aircraft carrying the President has the callsign Army One; U.S. Navy aircraft are called Navy One. (As of October 2004, the only "Navy One" has been the S-3B Viking that carried President George W. Bush to USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.) A civilian plane carrying the President has the callsign "Executive One," and a plane carrying a member of the First Family will be called "Executive One Foxtrot."


Capability and features

The planes that serve as Air Force One differ from the standard Boeing 747 in size, features, and security precautions. While Air Force One has three floors, like a regular Boeing 747, its interior has been reconfigured for presidential duties. The planes' 4,000 square feet (370 m²) of interior floor space include multiple modifications. The planes' lowest level is mostly cargo space, carrying luggage and the plane's food supply. The food can supply up to 2,000 meals when fully loaded, some of which is stored in freezers. Meals are prepared in two galleys, which together are equipped to feed about 100 people at a time.

The main passenger area is on the second floor, and communications equipment and the cockpit are on the third floor. There are three entrances onboard. Writer Tom Harris notes:

Passengers can enter through three doors. Two doors, one at the front of the plane and one at the rear, open onto the lower deck, and one door at the front of the plane opens onto the middle deck. Normally, when you see the president in the news getting on and off Air Force One with a wave, he is using the door onto the middle deck and a rolling staircase has been pulled up to the plane. Journalists normally enter through the rear door, where they immediately climb a staircase to the middle deck. Most of the press area looks something like the first class section of an ordinary jetliner, with comfortable, spaced-out seats.

Onboard Air Force One are medical facilities, including a fold-out operating table, emergency medical supplies, and a well-stocked pharmacy. On every flight there is a staff doctor. In addition, there are separate sleeping quarters for guests, senior staff, Secret Service and security personnel, and the news media; the president's executive suite includes a private dressing room, workout room, lavatory, shower, and private office. These offices, including the president's suite, are mostly located on the right side of the aircraft (while facing forward), and a long corridor runs along the left side. Whenever Air Force One finishes taxiing on the tarmac, it always comes to a stop with the left side of the aircraft facing gathered onlookers as a security measure to keep the President's side of the aircraft out of view.

Missing image
Air Force One on the ground.

In the office areas, Air Force One features access to photocopying, printing, and word processing, as well as telecommunication systems (including 85 telephones and 19 televisions). There are also secure and non-secure voice, fax, and data communications. Most of the furniture onboard was hand-crafted by master carpenters.

The planes can also be operated as a military command center in the event of an incident such as a nuclear attack. Operational modifications include aerial refueling capability and anti-aircraft missile countermeasures. The electronics onboard include around 238 miles (383 km) of wiring, twice the amount in a regular 747. These are covered with heavy shielding to protect wires and electronics from the electromagnetic pulse generated by a nuclear attack. The planes also have electronic countermeasures (ECMs) which jam enemy radar, and flares to avoid heat-seeking missiles. Much of Air Force One's other capabilities are classified for security reasons.


Missing image
The C-54 Skymaster aircraft, nicknamed the Sacred Cow.

Prior to World War II, overseas and cross-country presidential travel was rare. Lack of telecommunications and quick transportation made long-distance travel impractical, as it took up much time and isolated the President from events in Washington.

In the 1940s and 1950s, however, air travel became much more convenient. The first president to fly in an airplane while in office was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who traveled on a Boeing 314 "flying boat" aircraft to a 1943 conference in Casablanca on the progress of World War II. The main reason at the time for presidential air travel was the threat of the German Navy's U-boats in the Atlantic. The continuing threat from the submarines established air travel as a usual means of distance transportation for the President.

The first aircraft officially designated for Presidential flight was the C-87A Liberator Express, a reconfigured B-24 bomber. This plane was called Guess Where Two. However, the plane was no longer used for Roosevelt after another C-87A crashed; the Secret Service reconfigured a C-54 Skymaster as a replacement. This plane was nicknamed the Sacred Cow and included a sleeping area, radio telephone, and retractable elevator for Roosevelt's wheelchair. It carried the president to several important events, most notably the Yalta Conference.

The Independence.
The Independence.

After Roosevelt died in spring 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman became President. He replaced the C-54 with a modified C-118 Liftmaster, calling it the Independence, possibly in reference to President Truman's hometown of Independence, Missouri. This was the first aircraft acting as Air Force One that had a distinctive exterior (an eagle head painted on its nose).

The call signs were established for security purposes during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first American president to have been a pilot in his own right. The change stemmed from a 1953 incident where an Eastern Airlines commercial flight (8610) had the same callsign as a flight the President was on (Air Force 8610). The planes accidentally entered the same airspace, and after the incident the unique call sign "Air Force One" was made for the presidential aircraft.

Missing image
The Columbine III

Eisenhower also introduced two other propeller aircrafts, the Lockheed C-121 Constellations (VC-121E) to Presidential service. These planes were named Columbine II and Columbine III by Mamie Eisenhower after the official state flower of Colorado, her adopted home state. President Eisenhower also upgraded Air Force One's technology by adding an air-to-ground telephone and an air-to-ground teletype machine. Towards the end of Eisenhower's term, in 1958, the Air Force added two Boeing 707 jets into the fleet.

With John F. Kennedy, presidential air travel officially entered the jet age. In 1962, he added a modified long-range 707 to the fleet--SAM 26000. He also commissioned industrial designer Raymond Loewy to create a distinctive exterior for the plane. Loewy came up with a powder blue and white design, the same colors used today; he also had the words "United States of America" put on the fuselage's side, the U.S. flag painted on the tail, and the Presidential seal added to both sides of the nose.

In late June 1963, Kennedy flew on SAM 26000 to Berlin, where he made his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, and to Ireland. A month earlier, it broke 30 speed records when carrying a delegation to Moscow, including the fastest non-stop flight between Washington and Moscow.

On November 22, 1963, SAM 26000 carried President John F. Kennedy to Dallas, Texas, where early that afternoon he was assassinated. It was on the plane (while it was at Love Field) that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office, and the plane carried Kennedy's body back to Washington. SAM 26000 flew over Arlington National Cemetery as Kennedy was being laid to rest.

Missing image
Lyndon B. Johnson became the first and only president to take the oath of office on Air Force One after Judge Sarah T. Hughes swore him in following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

SAM 26000 also carried Nixon on his historic trips to mainland China and to Russia in 1972. Later in 1972, SAM 26000 became the backup aircraft when another 707, SAM 27000 arrived.

On January 22, 1973, LBJ died. Two days later, SAM 26000 brought the former president's body on one final journey to Washington, coming from Texas for the state funeral the following day. After the funeral, SAM 26000 brought his body on one final journey home, back to Texas for his burial, landing at Bergstrom AFB, in Austin, the airfield landing Johnson flew into and out of when president. As the former president was laid to rest at his ranch, retired Brigadier General James Cross, pilot of SAM 26000 in Johnson's day, turned over the flag to his wife, Lady Bird at her request. He also escorted her during the state funeral, also at her request. The role SAM 26000 played during the funeral made two points clear:

  • It was the aircraft that LBJ used primarily when president.
  • Most importantly, his family agreed to the public honors in Washington because so many other Americans and people around the world wanted to join in.

In 1974, when Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency and departed from Andrews AFB on Air Force One, it was arranged that the plane's call sign would switch from Air Force One to SAM (Special Air Mission) designation (SAM 27000) the moment Gerald Ford took the oath of office.

Ronald Reagan's two terms as President saw no major changes to Air Force One but the fabrication of the current 747's began. Most of the interior was completed in Wichita, Kansas. After many delays the aircraft were delivered in 1990, during the administration of George H.W. Bush.

During Reagan's presidency came the most famous episode of former presidents on board. On October 6, 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated. Because of security concerns, Reagan didn't attend the funeral, nor did Bush, then-vice president. Instead, Reagan sent Secretary of State Alexander Haig and the living former presidents--Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter--to the funeral. Also former secretary of state Henry Kissinger was on board. In 1987, Reagan flew on SAM 27000 to Berlin and made his famous "Tear down this wall!" speech.

President George W. Bush added a treadmill to Air Force One. Bush was noted for going to the plane's pressroom to talk to reporters far less than his predecessors. In November 2003, there was a minor controversy when Air Force One's crew lied to the crew of a passing British Airways jet, informing them that the 416-ton 747 was an 45-ton Gulfstream V corporate jet, while transporting George W. Bush to Iraq to spend Thanksgiving with troops stationed there,1 though White House officials later denied this.2 In 2004, Bush lent a VC-25 to the family of the late former president Ronald Reagan to transport his casket to his state funeral and back to California for his burial.

One of the most dramatic episodes aboard Air Force One happened on September 11, 2001, when it flew President George W. Bush from Sarasota, Florida, where he interrupted an education event because of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Instead of returning to Washington, Bush flew to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, and then to the former Strategic Air Command (now STRATCOM) headquarters at Offut AFB in Nebraska, before returning to Washington. The following day, officials at the White House and the Justice Department said that Bush did this because there was evidence "that the White House and Air Force One were targets."

Aircraft which have formerly served as Air Force One are on display in the Presidential Hangar of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio (Sacred Cow, Independence, Columbine III, SAM 26000, and other smaller Presidential aircraft), as well as the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington (earlier VC-137B). The Boeing 707 that served as Air Force One during the 1980s (SAM 27000) is at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, but is not yet on display. A Douglas VC-118A Liftmaster used by President Kennedy is on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

The role Air Force One played in the state funerals of both LBJ and Reagan made two points clear:

  • Their families agreed to the public honors in Washington because so many other Americans and people around the world wanted to join in.
  • Because of jets, both the final funeral and the burial services in honor of both of them (LBJ on January 25, 1973, and Reagan on June 11, 2004) were completed in one day, though they took place on different parts of the country.

New aircraft to fulfill the role of Air Force One may be acquired as soon as 2010, when the current 747s will be 20 years old.

Pop culture

Missing image

Air Force One is a prominent symbol of the presidency and its power; after the White House, it is probably the most recognized Presidential institution. Air Force One has often been featured in popular culture and fiction, most notably in the 1997 action movie Air Force One, starring Harrison Ford. In the film, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, Russian terrorists attempt to hijack Air Force One and hold the President and other passengers hostage. The film was noted for its fancifully exaggerated depiction of the plane's capabilities; the real Air Force One does not carry an escape capsule, and automatic weapons fired in the aircraft's corridors would quickly shred its aluminum skin, causing the plane to crash.

Air Force One has been featured in other films (Independence Day, Superman, and Escape from New York, which also featured the non-existent escape pod), books (The President's Plane is Missing), and TV series (The West Wing, 24 and CBS's NCIS )

In some of the missions of the Nintendo 64 video game Perfect Dark, the player, a secret agent, must attempt to stop the hijacking of a futuristic Air Force One.

In Anthony Horowitz' fictional novel Eagle Strike, the teenage spy, Alex Rider, is trapped inside the hijacked Air Force One, providing the reader a description of the interior of the inside of the plane.

Other presidential aircraft

Missing image
Air Force One at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida on June 16, 2004.

No other mode of transportation for government executives is as well known as Air Force One; most nations, even industrialized ones, do not maintain a separate aircraft for heads of state and government, although most have a military "VIP fleet" that provides aircraft when senior government officials must travel (for example, the Royal Air Force used to have a Queen's Flight, but it has since merged with the No. 32 Squadron). A Boeing 707-328C XT-BBF, operated by Naganagani, is used to transport the president of Burkina Faso.

A used Boeing 767 was purchased by the Chinese government for use by President Jiang Zemin in 2000. An international incident occurred in 2001 when the Chinese government claimed it had found 27 bugs embedded in the aircraft's interior. The plane had been refitted in San Antonio, Texas.

Sources and further reading


  • "Air Force One" Boeing Corporation. [1] (
  • "Air Force One" United States Air Force. July 2003. [2] (
  • Albertazzie, Ralph, and Jerald F. Terhorst. Flying White House: The Story of Air Force One. Book Sales: 1979. ISBN 0698109309.
  • Dorr, Robert F. Air Force One. Motorbooks International: 2002. ISBN 0760310556.
  • Hardesty, Von. Air Force One: The Aircraft that Shaped the Modern Presidency. Northword Press: 2003. ISBN 1559718943.
  • Harris, Tom. How Air Force One Works. [3] (
  • Walsh, Kenneth T. Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes. Hyperion: 2003. ISBN 1401300049.

Photographs and other multimedia

  • Truman Library & Museum.[4] (
  • United States Air Force.[5] (
  • National Museum of the United States Air Force Presidential Aircraft.[6] (
  • Radio communication of the Air Force One monitored by the Frequency Monitor Centre in the Netherlands[7] (

See also


  1. Milbank, Dana. "A Baghdad Thanksgiving's Lingering Aftertaste." The Washington Post. December 12, 2003. [8] (
  2. Allen, Mike. "The Bird Was Perfect But Not For Dinner." The Washington Post. December 4, 2003. [9] (

da:Air Force One de:Air Force One fr:Air Force One he:אייר פורס 1 ja:エアフォースワン pl:Air Force One zh-cn:空军一号


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