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A Guide to Presidential Planes

by Matt Falcus
Anna Zvereva from Tallinn, Estonia, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

by Diogo Montteiro


The world is led by highly influential politicians and heads of state. They are transported on state visits, or summits with other leaders, by highly modified airplanes to accommodate them in the greatest possible comfort and safety. The arrival of a Head of State aboard their presidential plane always marks a moment of influence and power, and they are also interesting to see for enthusiasts.

Below we look at some of the various airplane models that are used to transport heads of state or members of government from various countries around the world.

Airbus VC-1A – Brazil

FAB2101 - SBBR

In 2005, the Brazilian Government under the command of the then President of the Republic, Lula da Silva acquired an Airbus A319 ACJ with MSN 2263 and with registration FAB2101, which is used until today to transport the actual President of the Brazilian Republic, Jair Bolsonaro.

The official name of the plane is Airbus VC-1A and named as “Santos Dumont” and at the time it was acquired to replace the now obsolete Boeing 707 that until that time was in charge of transporting the President of the Republic of Brazil.

The aircraft made its first flight on January 19, 2005 between the Brazilian Capital, Brasilia and Tabatinga. However, after that, the aircraft has already flown across borders to destinations such as Zürich, Lisbon, Paris, Oporto, Brisbane, London, Geneva and among others.

The VC-1A has a range of 5,280 nautical miles (8,500 km) and carries up to 55 passengers including the crew under a maximum service ceiling of 44,000 ft (13,530 m).


Airbus KC-2 Voyager – United Kingdom

Photo (c) Colin Cooke

ZZ336 in the new Union Jack scheme. Photo (c) Colin Cooke

Since 2016, the UK Government has been using the Airbus A330 MRTT for Government and Royal Family commitments. This new aircraft that came to replace the old Lockheed L-1011 and VC10 has been reconfigured to include a secure satellite communications system, missile detection, conference facilities, a changing room, 58 business class seats and 100 economy seats but still retain its primary mission as an aerial tanker.

In 2020, the Government, led by Boris Johnson, authorized additional changes to the plane, the most notable of which was a new painting that mainly consists of the aesthetic design of Union Jack.

According to the RAF, the KC-2 Voyager (which is the official designation of the British model), has a maximum ceiling of 41,000 ft, with a maximum speed of Mach 0.86 with a range of up to 8,000 nautical miles (14,816 km) with the maximum fuel loaded.


Boeing VC-25A – United States of America

Air Force One lands at Hickam Air Force Base (AFB) with US President George W. Bush on board for his first visit to Hawaii while holding office.

Probably these two modified Boeing 747-200 are the biggest American symbols overseas and the most famous presidential jet. They flew for the first time in 1987 still under the Presidency of Ronald Regan and use the callsign “Air Force One” whenever POTUS is on board. The VC-25A are capable of flying 7,800 nautical miles (12,600 km), however the planes are equipped with a refueling system during the flight which, in theory, allows the VC-25A to have an unlimited range.

Among more general features, the Boeing VC-25A has a crew of 26 elements. Even though the interior has been reconfigured for presidential functions, it is still possible to accommodate 76 passengers in a VIP configuration. This aircraft can also be used as a military command center. The immense modifications perpetuated by the USAF to the VC-25A include anti-aircraft missile countermeasures. The VC-25A have 383 km of wiring and they are covered with heavy protective shields to protect them from electromagnetic nuclear pulses, thus guaranteeing their airworthiness in the event of a nuclear attack.

Many VC-25A countermeasures are top secret, however it is common knowledge that the aircraft also has electronic countermeasures (ECMs) to jam enemy radar, flares to avoid heat-seeking missiles, and chaff to avoid radar-guided missiles.

In terms of performance, the VC-25A is powered by 4 General Electric CF6-80C2B1 engines that provide a maximum speed of approximately 548 knots (1,014 km/ h), Mach 0.92 at 35,000 ft with a service ceiling of 45,100 ft (13,700 m). In terms of limitations, the VC-25A has an MTOW of 377,842 kg.

[Where Are All the Air Force One Aircraft?]


Airbus A330-200 – France

The main aircraft used by the French Republic for the transportation of the French President or the French Government, is an Airbus A330-223 that was initially built and operated by the Swiss flag airline, Swissair. In terms of modifications, the plane has not undergone many additional modifications other than its VIP configuration. In addition to this A330, there were still two Airbus A340-200 that were recently sold. In addition, the French Air Force acquired two more Airbus A330-243s, which previously belonged to the bankrupt Avianca Brazil for Government VIP transportation and military missions.

The two planes are now, F-UJCS (MSN 1608 ex PR-OCG) and F-UJCT (MSN 1657 ex PR-OCX). The planes were received in November and December 2020 and will be based at Paris – Charles de Gaulle.


Airbus A340-600 – Azerbaijan

Photo (c) Martyn Cartledge

One of three aircraft used by the Azerbaijan Government is Airbus A340-600 “Baku-8”. Other aircraft include an A319 and Boeing 767-300.


Airbus A350 – Germany

Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

Luftwaffe marked itself as the first operator of an A350 ACJ with an order for 3 aircraft of the type. Luftwaffe decided to renew its presidential fleet of Airbus A310 and A340 with the A350 due to the various technical problems that the first two models presented, together with their high costs of operation.

The cabin received a totally VIP configuration, which was handled by Lufthansa Technik. The model with this configuration has 30 business seats, 80 economy seats, 1 lounge, 2 mini suites and a work area. Airbus also fitted the A350 with special avionics, such as a Large Aircraft Infrared Counter-Measure system (LAIRCM) to protect the airplanes from incoming missiles.

With its new configuration, combined with the high efficiency of the A350, the Luftwaffe’s A350ACJ is advertised to be able to fly for up to 22 hours with a range of 12,800 miles (20,550 km). This plane marked the news for performing the longest flight of an A350 nonstop between Cologne and Canberra with a total of 10,500 miles (17,000 km) with a total duration of 19 hours.

This first plane was registered as 10+03, has MSN 416 and it was also named “Kurt Schumacher”. The fleet of 3 A350s operating for the Luftwaffe is estimated to be flying by 2022.


Ilyushin Il-96-300PU – Russia

While most Heads of State use Western planes, things change slightly when it comes to Russia. The Russian presidential planes are the old and still Soviet Ilyushin Il-96-300PU. The initials “PU” stands for “Punkt Upravleniya,” which is Russian for “command point.”

This version of the IL-96 is highly modified, with extensive security and luxury modifications that include laser and anti-missile models and communications systems.

Regarding the exterior aspect, the IL-96PU uses the same livery as Rossiya, except for the use of the coat of arms of Russia or the Presidential Standard on the commitment, instead of the standard flag of Russia.

The interiors of the aircraft are inspired by Russian art. It was reported that Vladimir Putin had personally inspected the ongoing work at the Voronezh plant while he was the Prime Minister. Before the five IL-96PU, the Russian President had in the past Ilyushin Il-62, Tupolev Tu- 154, and Yakovlev Yak-40. The IL-96-300PU has a range of 6,209 nautical miles (11,500 km) with an average cruising speed that varies between Mach 0.78 and Mach 0.84.



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Paul Longshaw January 27, 2021 - 1:01 pm

Hi Matt, just a minor point, ZZ336 wears the Union Flag livery not Union Jack. The flag is only called a Union Jack when flown from the jackstaff of a Royal Navy warship.

Matt Falcus January 27, 2021 - 2:19 pm

Thanks for clarifying Paul!


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