The Boeing VC-137B Stratoliner is a modified version of the Boeing 707 commercial
intercontinental airliner and the first jet aircraft designed exclusively for presidential use. For
almost 30 years it served as the presidential aircraft, commonly known as "Air Force One." Today, the
president's aircraft is the VC-25A, a heavily modified Boeing
On 10 October 1962, the first VC-137B (#26000) purchased for use as "Air Force
One" arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, MD. When SAM 26000, as it is commonly known (SAM stands for
Special Air Missions), entered service, it was capable of traveling farther and faster than any other
executive aircraft in the Air Force fleet. It could also operate from much shorter runways.
President Kennedy flew on 26000 for the first time in November 1962, when he
and the first lady attended Eleanor Roosevelt's funeral in New York. In June, Kennedy used the
aircraft when he flew to Ireland and Germany, where he made his famous "Ich Bin Ein Berliner"
speech. A month earlier, while taking a U.S. delegation to Moscow, 26000 broke 30 speed records,
including the fastest nonstop flight between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Convinced that the new aircraft needed a distinctive look, President Kennedy
commissioned noted designer Raymond Loewy to come up with a new design. The result was a
striking blue and white color scheme that has more or less carried to this day. "United States of
America" was emblazoned on the side of the fuselage, an American flag was painted on the tail,
and because this would be the president's aircraft, a presidential seal was added on both sides
of the nose.
SAM 26000 is perhaps the most widely known and most historically significant
presidential aircraft. It returned President Kennedy's body to Washington, D.C. following his
assassination on 22 November 1963. Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into office as the 36th president
on board the aircraft at Love Field in Dallas. This fateful aircraft also was used to return
President Johnson's body to Texas following his state funeral on 24 January 1973. In 1972,
President Richard M. Nixon made historic visits aboard 26000 to the People's Republic of China
in February and to the Soviet Union in May.
The VC-137B body is identical to that of the Boeing 707, but has different
interior furnishings and electronic equipment. The passenger cabin is divided into three sections:
- The forward section has a communications center, galley, lavatory and an eight-seat compartment.
- The center section is an airborne headquarters with conference tables, swivel chairs, a projection
screen for films and two convertible sofa-bunks.
- The rear section of the cabin contains double reclining passenger seats, tables, a galley, two
lavatories, and closets. Partitions may be placed throughout the cabin for added privacy.
President Johnson reconfigured the interior of 26000. Additional seals were
added, and the seats were reversed to face the rear of the aircraft toward the president's
compartment. Johnson liked to be able to keep an eye on his passengers, and the cherry wood
partitions that separated the passengers from the stateroom were replaced with clear plastic
dividers. He also had a chair and large desk installed that could raise or lower at the press
of a button. President Johnson used 26000 extensively on travels back and forth between
Washington and his Texas ranch. He was also a world traveler and used the aircraft for his
flights to Vietnam at the height of the war.
President Nixon was in office less than a month when he made his first trip
abroad on 26000, to Vietnam. However, shortly after he took office, 26000 went back
to the Boeing factory for its first major overhaul. The aircraft was stripped to its metal shell
from cockpit to tail. While engineers tested the aircraft's structure and systems, the interior
layout was redesigned. The private quarters of the president were moved to the area forward of
the wings, the most quiet and stable section of the aircraft. A staff compartment was built in the
rear of 26000. One feature of 26000, which did not carry over into the Nixon administration, was
the on-board taping system. By orders of the president, the system that recorded all incoming
and outgoing calls on 26000 was removed.
In December 1972, SAM 26000 was assigned the role of backup presidential
aircraft. The aircraft that replaced it as the primary presidential plane (#27000) was another
Boeing 707 designated as VC-137C. SAM 26000 continued to serve in the presidential fleet through
four other presidents and even had a role in transition to the VC-25As the president flies today.
When state-of-the-art communications systems for the new aircraft were being developed, they were
first tested on 26000.
SAM 26000 left the presidential fleet in 1990, but continued to make history
serving America's leaders. Vice presidents, secretaries of state and defense, and congressional
delegations used 26000 extensively throughout the 1990s. Also, whenever the VC-25As were at Boeing
for scheduled maintenance or heavy inspections, 26000 reassumed its role as presidential backup.
The VC-137 fleet of aircraft have 1950s airframe technology that do not
comply with FAA Stage 3 restrictions. These aircraft are very expensive to fly, support, and
maintain. Therefore, the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB, MD has received four new Boeing
757-200 aircraft, designated C-32A, to replace the aging
and costly VC-137 fleet. In 1998, two 12-seat Gulfstream V business jets, designated
added to the SAM fleet.
SAM 26000 served with pride and dependability for 36 years and takes into
retirement a rich, honorable record of protecting America's interests both in good times and bad.
This remarkable aircraft is currently on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH.
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