Fascinating Air Force One: The First Was a Pan Am-Crewed Boeing 314 Flying Boat

 
The Boeing 314 Clipper is the quintessential flying boat
The Boeing 314 Clipper is the quintessential flying boat
 
SHARE:

Walsh believes that the current aircraft has the ability to deal with heat-seeking missiles, which pose a threat during takeoff and landing.

Air Force One is the official air traffic control call sign of any US Air Force aircraft used to transport the President of the United States. Currently, the term serves as a description for specific aircraft that are designed, built, and used specifically for the transport of the Commander-in-Chief.

From 1990 to the present, the name Air Force One has referred to two specially equipped Boeing 747-200B airplanes with the military designation VC-25A. Both aircraft have the codes 28000 and 29000 on their tails.

The call sign of the presidential aircraft was created for security after an incident in 1953. During that flight, a Lockheed Constellation named Columbine II, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower on board, entered the same airspace as an Eastern Air Lines flight.

Lockheed Constellation Columbine II during President Eisenhower’s visit to Bermuda for the December 1953 Western Summit.Photo: Tupelo the typo fixer CC BY-SA 4.0
Lockheed Constellation Columbine II during President Eisenhower’s visit to Bermuda for the December 1953 Western Summit.Photo: Tupelo the typo fixer CC BY-SA 4.0

The President’s aircraft and the commercial aircraft used the same flight number, which led to confusion. After this incident, it was decided to use the unique call sign “Air Force One” for the President’s aircraft.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower air plane landing in Harlingen Texas Oct. 18th 1953
President Dwight D. Eisenhower air plane landing in Harlingen Texas Oct. 18th 1953

The President of the United States must be able to go anywhere in the world at any time. The first president who began to fly in an aircraft while in office was Franklin Roosevelt.

During the Second World War, he traveled on Dixie Clipper, a Pan Am-crewed Boeing 314 flying boat. In 1943, Roosevelt flew a distance of 5,500 miles (8,890 km) to attend a conference in Casablanca.

A Boeing 314 “Clipper” in flight.
A Boeing 314 “Clipper” in flight.

US Army Air Forces commanders were doubtful about the security of the president while traveling on commercial airliners. For this reason, it was decided to remake a military aircraft and improve it to the needs of the Commander-in-Chief.

The first specialized presidential aircraft was made in 1943 and was based on the C-87A VIP transport aircraft. This plane was used for international flights and in fact was the first Air Force One.

 

However, soon after the revision of its safety characteristics, the aircraft was used to transport high-ranking members of the Roosevelt administration rather than the president. The Secret Service replaced his plane with a more modern Douglas C-54 Skymaster.

Nowadays, Air Force One is easily recognized by its painted American flag, the words “United States of America,” and the Seal of the President of the United States. It is a symbol of the US presidency and the US government.

An USAF C-54 Skymaster
An USAF C-54 Skymaster

Air Force One has the ability to refuel in the air, giving it an unlimited range. It is able to transport the president anywhere in the world. The aircraft is equipped with modern communications equipment that, in the event of an attack on the United States, also allows it to function as a mobile command center. The onboard electronics are protected from any electromagnetic impulses.

Kenneth Walsh, author of Air Force One: A History of Presidents and Their Planes, said that “What we do know is that Air Force One has a skin on it designed to ward off electromagnetic pulses if there was a nuclear war.”

SAM 28000, one of the two VC-25As used as Air Force One, flying over Mount Rushmore in February 2001
SAM 28000, one of the two VC-25As used as Air Force One, flying over Mount Rushmore in February 2001

Walsh believes that the current aircraft has the ability to deal with heat-seeking missiles, which pose a threat during takeoff and landing.

“Beyond that, the military doesn’t like to talk about it. We all suspect, in the press corps, that there’s a lot more protective systems there, but they’re kept very, very secret,” Walsh says.

Inside Air Force One, the president and his assistants have 4,000 square feet of space on three levels. At the president’s disposal is an extensive suite, inside of which there is a large office, a conference room, and a toilet.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Douglas C-54 Skymaster aircraft, nicknamed the Sacred Cow
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Douglas C-54 Skymaster aircraft, nicknamed the Sacred Cow

In addition, the plane includes two kitchens with a capacity of up to 100 people, and a medical suite in which the doctor, if necessary, can perform complex operations. Air Force One also has facilities for senior presidential advisors, journalists, secret service agents, and other escorts.

As a rule, during long-haul flights several cargo planes fly ahead of Air Force One to provide the president and staff with food and services.

In 1944 the Airlift Group was established as part of the White House Military Office at the direction of President Roosevelt. This group operates and is responsible for the maintenance of the Air Force One.

SAM 28000 sits on the ramp as Air Force One (SAM 29000 in the background) descends on final approach into Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawaii with President George W. Bush aboard.
SAM 28000 sits on the ramp as Air Force One (SAM 29000 in the background) descends on final approach into Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawaii with President George W. Bush aboard.

For the next 15 years, Roosevelt flew on various propeller aircraft. President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president to use the VC-137A, a Boeing 707 Stratoliner, during a flight to Europe in August 1959.

The first president to fly in a jet modified Boeing 707 Stratoliner was John F. Kennedy in October 1962. Over the following decades, several other jet aircraft were used. Since 1990, the presidential fleet has consisted of two Boeing VC-25As, a military version of the Boeing 747.

Boeing 707 SAM 26000 served Presidents Kennedy to Clinton, and was the primary transport from Kennedy to Nixon.
Boeing 707 SAM 26000 served Presidents Kennedy to Clinton, and was the primary transport from Kennedy to Nixon.

By 2024, the United States Air Force plans to replace the aging aircraft, which have been in service since the administration of President George H. W. Bush in 1990. The new Air Force One will be a modified Boeing 747-8.

President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush walk on the parking ramp as Air Force One sits at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, 1 March 2006.
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush walk on the parking ramp as Air Force One sits at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, 1 March 2006.

The Air Force described the new aircraft in a statement:

“Though modification specifics are not fully discussed due to operational security, expected updates include electrical power upgrades, a mission communication system, a medical facility, executive interior, a self-defense system and self-sufficient ground operations.

President Barack Obama meets with staff mid-flight aboard Air Force One, in the conference room, 3 April 2009.
President Barack Obama meets with staff mid-flight aboard Air Force One, in the conference room, 3 April 2009.

Read another story from us: MiG-15 – The Aircraft That Challenged the US Air Force with Video

“The VC-25B, which will function as an airborne White House to allow the Commander in Chief to execute constitutional responsibilities while in transit, will also use the highest level of command and control military capabilities to maintain national security for all possible national contingencies or emergencies.”

We hope you enjoy our content. We think it’s important to keep war history alive. If you do too, please consider becoming a supporter. Thanks.

Become a Supporter
 
© Copyright 2019 - War History Online