After Concorde, Air Force One is probably the most famous aircraft that people know. Most people will have heard of it, seen the film about it, and seen it in countless news pieces as the US President travels about the globe.
But did you know, Air Force One is actually a fluid thing?
No one plane has the title Air Force One, and there have been lots of them over the years.
In fact, two new aircraft are being fitted out for the purpose at the moment.
What is Air Force One?
Air Force One is the title given to the aircraft which is carrying the US President at the time.
There are currently two Boeing 747 variants assigned to the role, but the President also flies on various other aircraft as he moves around on his duties.
Air Force One is the flight, not the aircraft.
The Current Air Force One Aircraft
The two aircraft most commonly referred to as Air Force One today are a pair of modified Boeing 747s, known by the military variant VC-25A.
They were ordered in the 1980s, and are based on the Boeing 747-200B fuselage, with the 747-400 avionics and flight systems.
They also have a host of protective equipment on board more akin to military aircraft, and inside it is nothing like a conventional airliner.
It even has a door and staircase from the lower level, where the cargo hold is located on a regular 747!
The two aircraft presently used for Air Force One flights are:
- 82-8000 “SAM 28000”, c/n 23824/679
- 92-9000 “SAM 29000”, c/n 23825/685
They were both built in 1987, and are operated by the 89 Air Wing based at Andrews AFB, MD.
Where are the Previous Air Force One Aircraft
There have been a number of aircraft previously used as Air Force One, and thankfully most still exist and have been preserved. So it’s possible to visit them.
Here are the aircraft previously used as Air Force One:
Douglas C-54 “Sacred Cow”
The first purpose-built presidential transport aircraft. Sacred Cow was a Douglas VC-54C, based on the DC-4, with serial 42-107451.
Introduced in 1945 for President Roosevelt, it was replaced in 1947, but went on to other duties until retired in 1961.
Sacred Cow is now preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH.
Douglas C-118 “The Independence”
Replacing Sacred Cow in 1947, President Truman named this aircraft after his hometown, Independence, MO. It was based on the Douglas DC-6, with four piston engines. It had the serial 46-505.
The Independence was replaced in 1953 but carried on in a VIP role until 1965. It is now preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH
Constellations “Columbine II” and “Columbine III”
These two Lockheed VC-121 Constellation aircraft were introduced by President Eisenhower in 1952 and 1954 respectively. They had serial numbers 48-0610 and 53-7885.
Columbine II was the first aircraft to ever use the Air Force One callsign.
Columbine II is currently at Bridgewater, VA undergoing restoration.
Columbine III is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton, OH.
U-4B Aero Commander 55-4638 was the smallest aircraft ever to be used as Air Force One. It was used by President Eisenhower, who sometimes took the controls, between 1956-1960.
It is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton, OH.
Boeing 707 SAM 970
The first jet aircraft to be used as Air Force One was a Boeing 707-120, introduced in 1959. Its serial was 58-6970, and was given the designation Boeing VC-137B. It was replaced in this role in 1962, but carried on in the government fleet until 1996.
Today it is on display at the Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field.
Boeing 707 SAM 971
The second of a batch of three 707s ordered for the presidential fleet, SAM 971 was a VC-137B with serial 58-6971 and fleet between 1959 and 1998.
It is now preserved at the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, AZ.
Boeing 707 SAM 972
The third VC-137B was 58-6972 and flew between 1959 and 1996. It has since been scrapped.
Boeing 707 SAM 26000
The next generation of Air Force One aircraft were based on the Boeing 707-320 and had the designation VC-137C. SAM 26000 had the serial 62-6000 and flew from 1962 with President John F Kennedy.
It was also the first to wear the familiar white, blue and grey livery with ‘United States of America’ titles.
This is the aircraft aboard which Lyndon B Johnson took the oath of office following the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963.
SAM 26000 was replaced by SAM 27000 (see below) in 1972, but operated in a back-up role until 1998.
It is now preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton, OH.
Boeing 707 SAM 27000
The second Boeing 707 used as Air Force One was VC-137C SAM 27000, or 72-7000, introduced in 1972 for President Nixon and six subsequent presidents until it was replaced in 1990. It did undertake a few other presidential journeys over later years, including carrying Richard Nixon’s body following his death.
SAM 27000 was retired to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, where it is on display.
An Honorary Air Force One
Recently a former Singapore Airlines, Pan Am and Evergreen International Boeing 747-212B, N485EV, was relocated by barge to North Kingstown, RI, to become the feature of the Air Force One Experience (see https://www.airforceoneexperience.com/).
The aircraft was painted in the authentic Air Force One livery and turned into a unique educational experience on the history of the aircraft and the ones that came before it. The interior tells the story, with bare sections, and sections fitted out exactly as on board the real aircraft.
When Will the New Air Force One be Ready?
President Trump recently approved the construction of two new aircraft to be used as Air Force One, to replace the current, ageing aircraft.
Based on the Boeing 747-8, they will feature all the latest avionics, components and defensive measures, as well as on-board luxury and ability to serve as a ‘flying White House’.
In order to save money, it was decided to convert two 747-8s built for bankrupt Transaero Airlines, which had been sent to the Mojave Desert for storage. They are likely to be given the military designation VC-25B.
The new aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2024. It will also feature a new livery – the first since 1962.
How many Air Fore One aircraft have you seen?
Here’s a summary of where the survivors can be found:
- 42-107451, Douglas VC-54C “Sacred Cow”, National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH
- 46-505, Douglas VC-118 “The Independence”, National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH
- 48-0610, Lockheed VC-121 Constellation “Columbine II”, Bridgewater, VA
- 53-7885, Lockheed VC-121 Constellation “Columbine III”, National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH
- 55-4638, U-4B Aero Commander, National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH
- 58-6970, Boeing VC-137B, SAM 970, Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
- 58-6971, Boeing VC-137B, SAM 971, Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, AZ
- 58-6972, Boeing VC-137B, SAM 972, Scrapped
- 62-6000, Boeing VC-137C, SAM 26000, National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH
- 72-7000, Boeing VC-137C, SAM 27000, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, CA
- 82-8000, Boeing VC-25A, SAM 28000, Active Andrews AFB, MD
- 92-9000, Boeing VC-25A, SAM 29000, Active Andrews AFB, MD