The presidential air transport fleet consists of two specially configured Boeing 747-200B aircraft (tail numbers 28000 and 29000) with the Air Force designation VC-25A. When the President of the United States is aboard either aircraft, or any Air Force aircraft for that matter, the radio call sign is “Air Force One”.
History of ‘Air Force One’
Presidential air transport began in 1944 when a C-54 Skymaster, known as the “Sacred Cow,” was put into service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Then came the “Independence,” a C-118 Liftmaster which transported President Harry S Truman from 1947 to 1953. President Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled aboard two C-121 Constellations, “Columbine II” and “Columbine III,” from 1953 to 1961. A 1953 incident where Eisenhower’s aircraft was callsign “Air Force 8610” and an Eastern Airlines plane was callsign “8610” created the need to devise a unique call sign for the presidential aircraft. The callsign “Air Force One” was classified during the 1950s to identify not only the president’s plane, but when he was aboard. In 1961, it became popularly known when it identified President John F. Kennedy while flying aboard his C-118.
In 1962, a VC-137B specifically purchased for use as “Air Force One”, entered into service with the tail number 26000. It is perhaps the most widely known and most historically significant presidential aircraft. Aircraft 26000 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.
The original paint scheme was designed at the request of President Kennedy, who wanted the airplane to reflect the spirit of the national character. He also directed that the words “United States of America” appear prominently on the fuselage, and that the U.S. flag be painted on the vertical stabilizer. The result was a striking blue and white color scheme that has more or less carried to this day.
Developed to replace the aging and costly VC-137B/C which had served the nation’s chief executives for nearly 30 years, the VC-25A will usher presidential travel into the 21st century, upholding the proud tradition and distinction of being known as “Air Force One.” The first VC-25A (#28000) flew as “Air Force One” on 6 September 1990, when it transported President George Bush to Kansas, Florida, and back to Washington, D.C.
The Flying ‘Oval Office’
Principal differences between the VC-25A and the standard Boeing 747, other than the number of passengers carried, are the electronic and communications equipment aboard “Air Force One,” its interior configuration and furnishings, self-contained baggage loader, front and aft air-stairs, and the capability for inflight refueling.
Both 747s were built at the Boeing facility in Everett, WA then flown to the company’s facility in Wichita, KS for configuration as “Air Force One.” The aircraft were extensively modified to meet presidential requirements.
The flying “Oval Office” has 4,000 square feet of interior floor space, which features accommodations for the president such as an executive suite consisting of a stateroom (with dressing room, lavatory, and shower) and the president’s office. A conference/dining room is also available for the president, his family, and staff. Other separate accommodations are provided for guests, senior staff, Secret Service and security personnel, and the news media. Two galleys provide up to 100 meals at one sitting. Six passenger lavatories, including disabled access facilities, are provided as well as a rest area and mini-galley for the aircrew. The VC-25A also has a compartment outfitted with medical equipment and supplies for minor medical emergencies.
About 238 miles of wire wind through the presidential carrier. This is more than twice the wiring found in a typical 747. All wiring is shielded to protect it from electromagnetic pulse, which is generated by a thermonuclear blast and interferes with electronic signals.
The aircraft’s mission communications system provides worldwide transmission and reception of normal and secure communications. The equipment includes 85 telephones, as well as multi-frequency radios for air-to-air, air-to-ground and satellite communications.
Both VC-25A aircraft are flown by the presidential aircrew, maintained by the Presidential Maintenance Branch, and are assigned to the Air Mobility Command’s 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, MD.
|Unofficial Nicknames||Air Force One|
|Primary Role||Presidential transport|
|Original Contractor||The Boeing Company|
|Operator||United States Air Force|
|Wingspan||195 feet, 8 inches (59.6m)|
|Length||231 feet, 10 inches (70.7m)|
|Height at Tail||63 feet, 5 inches (19.3m)|
|Engines||Four General Electric CF6-80C2B1 turbofans|
|Thrust||56,700 pounds (252.21kN) per engine|
|Max Speed||630 mph (Mach 0.92)|
|Range||6,800 nm (12,550km)|
|Service Ceiling||45,100 feet (13,746m)|
|Max Payload||76 passengers|
|Max Takeoff Weight||833,000 pounds (374,850kg)|
|Total in Service||Two aircraft|