Air Force One

Air Force One: The Most Celebrated Aircraft in the World

The Air Force One is the official aircraft of the President of the United States. The aircraft is controlled by the United States Air Force and stands as a symbol of the American presidency and the power the head of the state carries.

The President of the United States is constantly on the move and should be ever-ready to travel anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. The Air Force One is such an aircraft modified and built especially for this purpose. The present Air Force One aircraft is a highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, and the Air Force designation for this aircraft is VC-25A.  Air Force One denotes presidential power with the words “United States of America,” the American flag and the seal of the President of the United States embedded in the aircraft.

Air Force One
Image Source: The White House

Characteristics of Air Force One

The Air Force One aircraft is capable of refueling midair and has an unmistakable range. The aircraft is designed and hardened enough to protect everyone from an electromagnetic pulse. It has several advanced and secured technological and communication devices. The aircraft is capable of functioning as an active mobile command center too.

Space Area

The aircraft has 4,000 square feet of clear floor space across three levels. There is an exclusive high-class suite for the President with a humongous office, finesse lavatory, and a conference room. Additionally, there is also a medical suite that can transform into an operating room (if and when required) with a doctor on board at all times. There are two food preparation galleys on the plane that can prepare food for 100 people at a single time. In addition to this, the aircraft also has quarters for the people/ officials accompanying the President. Many cargo planes fly ahead of Air Force One aircraft to carry and provide the President of the United States with vehicles and additional services required in remote locations.

Stairways and Facilities

The Air Force One also has retractable stairways that give access to the rear entrance and the entrance at the front. These stairways open up to the lower deck, and the crew members on board can climb the internal staircases to access the upper decks. The aircraft also has its own baggage-loader and hence never needs to depend on the facilities of an airport. It is a self-sufficient superior aircraft in itself!


The interesting feature about the Air Force One is the variety of electronics. The aircraft has 85 onboard active telephones, several two-way radios, highly developed fax machines and computer connections. There are also as many as 19 televisions and assorted office equipment available on the aircraft. The advanced phone system effectively connects normal air to ground connections and operates on highly secured lines. It enables the president and the staff onboard the aircraft to connect anywhere on the planet from any height.

Refuel and Defense Systems

Another interesting feature is the in-flight refueling system, even in mid-air. It enables Air Force One the power to be in the air for an indefinite period, which is highly essential during emergency situations. The aircraft is equipped with advanced avionics and defenses that are designed to counteract any emergency or air attack. The plane has electronic counter measures (ECM) that proactively jams enemy radar. Additionally, it also has the ability to eject flares to distract heat-seeking missiles off their course well defense.

The Air Force One aircraft is maintained and operated by the premier Presidential Airlift Group, which is an active part of the White House Military Office. The group came into existence in 1944 as a part of the Presidential Pilot Office under the direction of then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. From its inception up to 15 years ago, the President flew in several propeller-driven aircraft until President Dwight D. Eisenhower travelled to Europe aboard a VC-137A. It was in the year 1962, when President John F. Kennedy became the first President of the United States to fly in a jet built specifically for the President. It was a modified Boeing 707. The first current aircraft fleet was delivered in 1990 during the administration of then President George H.W. Bush.

Air Force One
Image Source: Pixabay

Origin of Air Force One

The “Air Force One” is also a call sign created in 1953, after a Lockheed Constellation aircraft named Columbine II carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower ventured into the same airspace as a commercial flight having the same number.

The concept of creating a specific military aircraft for the President arose when officials of United State Army Air Forces aboard a Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper flight in 1943 expressed concerns about the safety and security of the President. During that time, a C-87 Liberator Express was modified for use as the first ever dedicated presidential aircraft and was given the name ‘Guess Where II’. However, the Secret Service rejected the aircraft due to safety concerns. After that, a C-54 Skymaster aircraft was modified for the President and carried then President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The aircraft stayed in use for two years more by President Harry S. Truman.

Other aircraft that served as Air Force One flights include another Lockheed Constellation named Columbine III and two Boeing 707s (1960s and 1970s). Since the year 1990, the presidential aircraft comprises two Boeing VC-25As and a specifically modified and customized Boeing 747-200B aircraft. The U.S. Air Force also ordered two superior Boeing 747-8s to serve as the next presidential aircraft.

Theodore Roosevelt First Flight Wright Flyer
Image Source: National Air and Space Museum

History of Air Force One

Theodore Roosevelt became the first U.S. President in 1910 to fly in an aircraft. It was a Wright Flyer that took off from Kinloch Field near St. Louis, Missouri.

Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to travel in an aircraft while in office. The aircraft was a Douglas Dolphin amphibian delivered specifically for presidential travel in 1933 and was designated RD-2 by the US Navy. The aircraft was modified with luxurious upholstery to accommodate four passengers and also had a tiny sleeping compartment. The aircraft was in use from 1933 until 1939.

During World War II, President Roosevelt traveled on a Dixie Clipper, a Pan Am-crewed Boeing 314 flying boat to the 1943 Casablanca Conference held in Morocco. However, severe security concerns arose about the safety of the President. It was then that USAAF leaders ordered them to convert a military aircraft and modify it, especially for presidential travel. The first dedicated aircraft for presidential travel was a C-87A aircraft. However, this aircraft got rejected after a review of its safety record during service came into notice. The Secret Service then modified a Douglas C-54 Skymaster for presidential travel purposes. A VC-54C aircraft with the name Sacred Cow had a sleeping cabin, radio telephone, and a retractable elevator to lift President Roosevelt in his wheelchair. However, President Roosevelt could use it only once on the Yalta Conference trip shortly before his death.  The aircraft stands on display now at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.

Columbine II
Image Source: Simple Flying

Former Presidential Aircrafts

Columbine Aircrafts

The VC-54C was in active before 1947 and was replaced in 1947 by a modified C-118 Liftmaster.  The latter earned an exquisite modification with a shining exterior and a nose shaped like the head of a bald eagle. The plane has a stateroom and a primary cabin that can accommodate 24 passengers. The aircraft now stands as an exhibit in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio. Later, four more propeller-driven aircraft were introduced to presidential service- two Lockheed C-121 Constellations, a VC-121A 48-610 and a VC-121E 53-7885. Also, two Aero Commanders were also added to the presidential fleet. The Columbine II aircraft (VC-121A 48-610) was the first aircraft to bear the call sign of Air Force One.

Boeing 707s

In 1959, the Air Force added three Boeing aircrafts- Boeing 707-120 jet aircraft—VC-137s, designated SAM (Special Air Missions) 970, 971 and 972 in the presidential fleet. These high-speed aircraft allow presidents to travel long distances at faster speeds for immediate meetings with world leaders.

SAM 26000

Under President John F. Kennedy, presidential aircraft took the jet age. In October 1962, the U.S. Air Force bought a Boeing C-137 Stratoliner. It is a modified long-range Boeing 707, which is a Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000. SAM 26000 remained in service from 1962- 1998, serving Presidents Kennedy to Clinton. The aircraft now stands on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.

SAM 27000

The SAM 26000 was replaced in 1972 by another VC-137- the Special Air Mission 27000. President Richard Nixon was the first president to use the SAM 27000 aircraft. It served every president until it was replaced by two VC-25A aircraft (SAM 28000 and 29000) in the year 1990. The last flight by SAM 27000 as Air Force One was in 2001. After the flight, it was formally decommissioned, dismantled and shifted to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, where it stands as an exhibit.

Boeing VC-25A

The Boeing VC- 25A was delivered in 1990 during the administration of President George H. W. Bush. The aircraft underwent modifications that enabled protection from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects. The VC-25 has both secure and unsecure phones as well as computer communications systems. These advanced systems enable the President to conduct duties in an airborne office.

Supersonic aircraft

The United States Air Force, in September 2020, announced many Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate contracts that were signed with aircraft manufacturers to develop a supersonic aircraft to specifically function as Air Force One.

Boeing VC-25A
Image Source: Pinterest


Other Uses of Air Force One

Several Presidents of the United States invited world leaders to travel with them aboard Air Force One.

  • Former President Nixon invited Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev to fly with him from Washington to California aboard Air Force One in 1973.
  • Former President Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II together toured across the U.S. West Coast in 1983 aboard Air Force One.
  • Former President Obama took British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 to a basketball game aboard Air Force One.

When the second term of former President Bush ended in January 2009, a VC-25 aircraft transported him to Texas. Similar arrangements were also made to transport former presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama when their terms ended. Former President Donald Trump under the Air Force One call sign to Mar-a-Lago estate before his term as the U.S. President ended.

Marine One Helicopter
Image Source: Naval Technology

Other Subsequent Presidential Aircraft

  • During the administration of Lyndon B Johnson, the United States Air Force got a Beechcraft King Air B90- a designated VC-6A.
  • United Airlines is the single most commercial airline that also operates as the Executive One. Executive One is the call sign conferred on a civilian flight carrying the President of the United States.
  • The President of the United States also travels in helicopters ( with call sign- Marine One). The helicopters are operated by the U.S. Marine Corps.
  • In November 1999, former President Bill Clinton flew from Ankara to Cengiz Topel Naval Air Station near Izmit in Turkey, aboard a superior C-20C with the call sign “Air Force One.”
  • On March 8, 2000, former President Clinton traveled to Pakistan aboard an unmarked Gulfstream III.
  • On May 1, 2003, former President George W. Bush flew aboard a Sea Control Squadron Thirty-Five (VS-35) S-3B Viking off the California coast.
  • As and when required because of circumstances, the President of the United States also takes domestic flights aboard a Boeing C-32.
Air Force Two
Image Source: Simple Flying

Air Force Two

Air Force Two is the official aircraft of the Vice President of the United States. It is also the call sign of the aircraft. The aircraft is a Boeing C-32- a highly modified 757 aircraft. Other aircraft that have acted as official transport of the Vice President of the United States include the Boeing C-40 Clipper, C-20B, C-37A, and C-37B. The VC-25A- which is the aircraft most frequently used as Air Force One by the President, has also been in use by the vice president as the Air Force Two.

The Boeing C-32 Air Force Two was delivered in May 1998 and later that year, three more aircrafts joined the fleet.  The plane has a power range of 5-500 nautical miles and can accommodate 45 passengers and 16 crew members in total. The plane flies the Vice President, the First Lady and the Secretary of State. However, the aircraft is referred to as Air Force Two only when the Vice President of the United States is onboard. The aircraft has sections of a high-powered communications center, a galley, and a lavatory. There is also a stateroom in the second section and a conference and staff facility area in the third compartment.  The Boeing C-32 replaced the earlier in use Boeing C-137 Stratoliner.


The Air Force One is the most popular aircraft in the world. From Hollywood movies to the media, there have been several portrayals of the celebrated aircraft and its majestic abilities! It is a highlight of American presidential power and an icon of the most honoured person in the world- the President of the United States of America.

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