You probably still remember the 1997 action-thriller film “Air Force One” and the movie’s famous scene, when Harrison Ford, starring as the president, pulls hijacker Gary Oldman’s parachute cord and growls, “Get off my plane!” But how much do you know about the real Air Force One, the planes (yes, plural) that fly the president around the country and even the world?
Unsurprisingly, Air Force One planes have as many bells and whistles as you can imagine. From serving as a de-facto bunker during a potential nuclear attack to flying well above where a commercial airliner can go, there are a lot of fascinating things to know about Air Force One.
“Air Force One” Is Technically A Call Sign
Although we think of Air Force One as referring to the planes themselves, it is technically a radio call name for any plane on which the president of the United States of America travels. So, “Air Force One” is simply the plane flying the president.
There Are Two Air Force One Planes
Although it is Air Force One, the military has two planes that are designated as the official planes for presidential travel under the call sign Air Force One. The two planes serving in the Air Force One fleet today have been in service since 1990, and one of them is always ready to fly.
There’s A Mobile Command Center
Presidents have a mobile command center at their disposal on the Air Force One aircraft. The onboard electronics are hardened to protect the plane from an electromagnetic pulse, and the plane is equipped with advanced secure communications equipment, according to the White House website. In the event of an attack on the United States, the president would have everything needed to respond.
The Current Planes Were Made By Boeing
Although many different types of planes have been used as Air Force One, the current planes in operation are both Boeing 747-200 aircraft. It has four engines and is a successor to the Boeing 707, which President Dwight Eisenhower added to the fleet in ’58. Eisenhower also flew in Lockheed C-121 Super Constellations.
The Name Was Established To Avoid Confusion
The “Air Force One” naming convention was established for communication purposes. The name was adopted in 1953, after a commercial plane, Eastern Air Lines Flight 8610, entered President Eisenhower’s airspace when he was on board his plane, which had a similar name — Air Force 8610. After the incident, the term “Air Force One” was coined to avoid any confusion about which aircraft is carrying the commander-in-chief.
There’s Also An Air Force Two
Air Force One isn’t the only official fleet for carrying the important people in our government. Air Force Two is the radio call sign for the plane the vice president is using. Typically, the V.P. flies on a C-32A, a military plane similar to a Boeing 757.
There’s A Marine One, Too
The president doesn’t always fly on airplanes. Sometimes, he takes a helicopter. Marine One is the radio call sign for a Marine Corps helicopter transporting the president. Lockheed is building six new helicopters for Marine One, and the first is expected to enter service in 2020, according to CNBC. Helicopters in the Marine One fleet are equipped with ballistic armor and antimissile defenses, and the pilots who fly them, from Marine Helicopter Squadron One, are known as the Nighthawks.
There’s Always A Doctor Aboard Air Force One
What happens if there is a medical emergency aboard the plane? The president and White House staff would be in luck since the Air Force One planes include a medical suite that can even function as an operating room, and there is always a doctor on board.
The Planes Will Be Replaced Soon
The two Air Force One planes have been in operation since 1990, so it should come as no surprise that they are in need of an update. In fact, they’re scheduled to be replaced within the next decade. In April, Boeing won a $3.9 billion contract to create new Air Force One planes to replace the current fleet. The new planes should be ready to fly the president by 2024.
It Can Seat 70 People
The president never needs to worry about flying alone. Air Force One can seat up to 70 people, which typically includes the president’s senior advisers, Secret Service officers, reporters from various media outlets and other guests who may be accompanying the president.
Air Force One Can Stay In The Air Indefinitely
You might remember that dramatic refueling scene in “Air Force One” the movie, but it’s actually true: These planes can be refueled mid-air, though the maneuver is typically reserved for emergency situations. A fuel plane would arrive and hover overhead to refuel Air Force One, which has a refueling probe on the aircraft’s nose. Refueling mid-air could keep the president in the air indefinitely if there’s an unsafe situation on the ground.
You’ll Never See It At A Terminal
There’s a reason why every picture of the president coming out of the airplane takes place on a set of stairs. The plane never parks at the terminal at an airport. It stays wherever it has landed so that it can take off at a moment’s notice, as needed.
FDR Was The First To Fly For State Business
The Navy purchased a Douglas Dolphin seaplane for the president’s personal use in 1933, but a sitting U.S. president didn’t fly to handle official state business until 1943. That first flight wasn’t a short one. Franklin Delano Roosevelt flew to a war strategy meeting with Winston Churchill in Casablanca, Morocco. Roosevelt’s journey on the Boeing 314 Flying Boat took four days! Departing from Florida, his pilots hopped through the Carribean to Brazil before making the trans-Atlantic flight to Gambia, then flew him north to Morocco.
FDR Established The Presidential Pilot Office
After that historic flight, FDR founded the Presidential Pilot Office, which is now known as the Presidential Airlift Group. This group is an official part of the White House Military office, and it is responsible for maintaining and operating Air Force One. And these planes get plenty of special attention: Air Force One is hand-polished before every flight.
George W. Bush Briefly Had A “Navy One”
Air Force One Has Three Floors
Air Force One is a large airplane. Not only does it have three levels and a whopping 4,000 square feet of floor space, but the president can enjoy an extensive suite that includes a large office, gym, bathroom (with shower) and conference room.
Air Force One Has 85 Telephones
What can the president do if his Air Force One phone stops working? Why, use one of the 84 other phones! Not only does Air Force One have at least 85 telephones (for both classified and unclassified use), but it also has multi-frequency radios and, of course, WiFi.
The Crew Knows How To Cater To Dignitaries
President Ronald Reagan was such a fan of jelly beans that both the Oval Office and Air Force One were always stocked with the candy. But Air Force One’s crew can do better than just producing the president’s favorite candy. The crew even knows how everyone likes their coffee. A National Geographic video shows a sign in the galley: President Bush took his coffee black with Equal, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took decaf with cream and Equal on the side. No need to ask!
Presidents Said So Long To Prop Planes in 1959
During the first 15 years of the Presidential Airlift Group, propeller-driven planes served the President of the United States. Then along came the Boeing passenger jet. President Dwight D. Eisenhower used a Boeing 707 Stratoliner in August 1959 to fly to Europe, and the rest is history.
JFK Flew In The First Customized Presidential Plane
President John F. Kennedy became the first president to use a jet that was built specifically for presidential use after he came into office. In 1962, he began flying in a modified Boeing 707. This iteration of Air Force One is historic for another reason: It carried his body back to Washington after he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
Jackie Kennedy Had Air Force One Redesigned
Unsurprisingly, President Kennedy’s always-fashionable wife, Jackie, had a big impact on what we know today as Air Force One. The then-First Lady commissioned designer Raymond Loewy to create a new interior for Air Force One, and she oversaw the redesign of the blue exterior that still makes Air Force One so recognizable today.
Air Force One Smuggled Beer For One President
Before Coors was available nationwide, the Rocky Mountain beer was so beloved by President Gerald R. Ford that his crew loaded it onto Air Force One and hauled cases back to Washington after their trips out west. What a crew!
The Motorcade Travels Ahead of Air Force One
Have you seen videos of the president disembarking from Air Force One and then climbing into his usual tank-like limo — even in another country? There’s a reason for that. The Air Force usually sends the president’s bulletproof motorcade ahead of Air Force One in a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane. This way, presidents have safe transportation both in the air and once they reach their destination.
The ‘Doomsday’ Plane Follows Air Force One
The aircraft popularly called the “Doomsday” plane always follows Air Force One. This plane (there are reportedly four of them in existence), the E-B4 Advanced Airborne Command Post, is an airborne nuclear bunker and command center that was designed at the height of the Cold War to resist a nuclear attack. It trails the president in case of an emergency, and just like Air Force One planes, most of its tech specs and capabilities are classified.
Air Force One Has Two Kitchens
Air Force One has not one but two kitchens, and the fare is far better than what the rest of us eat when we fly. Most of the on-board eats are created in a special, safe kitchen at Joint Base Andrews, where they are then vacuum-sealed and frozen; the crew then cooks or reheats meals onboard the plane. One thing Air Force One’s kitchens don’t have? A fryer. As a result, the fries on board can be soggy, CBS News notes.
Air Force One Is Also A Bunker
Even though the president has a nuclear bunker following them at all times (the “Doomsday” plane mentioned above), Air Force One itself is made of such tough stuff that it is also a de facto bunker in the event of a nuclear attack. The body of the aircraft has armor plating, and it has armor-plated glass in the windows. Surely there’s more, but most details of the plane’s defense capabilities are kept top secret, for obvious reasons.
Air Force One Is Larger And Faster Than President Trump’s Personal Plane
President Trump’s personal plane wins out in fanciness over the utilitarian features of Air Force One thanks to ornate decorations such as gold-plated seat belts and custom family crests embroidered into the leather seatbacks, and even a movie theater. However, as president, he has to fly on Air Force One because of the official plane’s capabilities for defense and security. Air Force One is also larger, faster and can fly for longer without refueling.
It Can Almost Travel At The Speed Of Sound
Air Force One has a top speed of 600 miles per hour, which is close to the speed of sound. In fact, the plane is so fast that one of the F-16 pilots who escorted Air Force One to Washington on 9/11 recalls having to speed up to catch up with it. Air Force One also flies high — it can reach a maximum altitude of 45,100 feet, which is far above than the usual cruising altitude for commercial flights.
Lyndon Johnson Took The Oath Of Office On Board
Within hours of the assassination of President Kennedy, then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office aboard Air Force One with his wife, Ladybird, and Jackie Kennedy at his side. Johnson’s friend in Dallas, Judge Sarah Hughes, boarded the plane and administered the oath of office before the new president took to the air to return to Washington.
Operating Air Force One costs a lot of money — millions. And while the numbers vary, even domestic trips are expensive for U.S. taxpayers: A conservative watchdog group tracking presidential travel expenses found that the cost of one of President Trump’s flights to a campaign rally in Arizona reached $1.5 million. Wow! But, now that we know so much more about Air Force One, it’s not surprising to learn that keeping our leaders safe doesn’t come cheap.