It’s hard to fathom now, but 100 years ago when the President needed to travel, he took a boat. Giant ships sporting American flags sailed into foreign ports when international business deals were underway. We’ve come a long way since then, but in honor of President’s Day, here’s a deeper look into Air Force One’s history, and how the presidential air fleet got to where it is today.
1910: The First Commander-in-Chief To Take Flight
Though he didn’t have his own plane, Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th president, was the first Commander-in-Chief to take flight after he left office in 1910. While campaigning for the Missouri State Republican Party, St. Louis pilot Archibald Hoxsey, who worked with The Wright Brothers, invited the former president for a quick lap in the sky. Though he initially declined, former President Roosevelt eventually agreed, and became the first president to take flight on October 11th, 1910.
1931-1944: Governmental Aircrafts for Presidential Travel
In the early 1930’s, a seaplane called “The Douglas Dolphin” became the first plane built to transport the president. Though intended for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he never actually flew in this plane. FDR did however become the first in-office president to fly in an aircraft. In 1943, he traveled to Casablanca, Morocco in a Boeing 314 Clipper for The Casablanca Conference.
This flight was planned in secret. The flight’s captain, Pan Am Pilot Howard M. Cone, said his crew was “very much surprised to learn the identity of [their] guest,” but that he was an “excellent passenger.”
The first official presidential plane was a Douglas VS-54C, known as “Sacred Cow,” in 1944. FDR was the first president to use this plane, and it even had a special elevator that allowed him to board the vessel in his wheelchair.
1953: The Beginning of “Air Force One”
President Eisenhower also had his own plane while in office. He took flight in a Lockheed C-121 Constellation, which First Lady Maimie Eisenhower named “Columbine II” after Colorado’s state flower. This was Eisenhower’s plane until the end of his term in 1961. From discussions in Turkey, to peace conferences in Geneva, to golfing vacations over Thanksgiving, this plane took President Eisenhower where he needed to go. This was the first plane referred to as “Air Force One.”
1962-1974: The First Presidential Jet
The first presidential jet was a Boeing 707-320B-based VC-137C called Special Air Mission or more commonly “SAM 26000.” This was the first plane with the renowned silver, blue and white design showcasing the words “United States of America.”
Several chapters of American history unfolded in this plane: This plane carried President John F. Kennedy’s casket to Dallas after his assassination, and Lyndon Johnson was sworn in aboard this vehicle. It also carried Nixon on the first presidential trip to China in 1972, and later to visit Russia.
This plane is also comically known for when Johnson was changing his clothes preparing for a speech on board while reporters interviewed him. Strapped for time, he started changing his clothes during the interview and continued to answer questions “standing buck naked waving his towel for emphasis.”
1984-early 2000’s: “The Flying Oval Office”
In the mid 1980’s, President Ronald Regan and the U.S. Air Force ordered two Boeing-747’s to be built for presidential travel. These planes had functioning office features including phones and other communication devices. These were also in use for President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Immediately after 9/11, President George W. Bush boarded Air Force One into the open air which Politico Magazine described as “the safest place his handlers could think of.” They were the only plane in the sky.
2017: A Fleet of Top Notch Aviation Technology
Today, Air Force One refers to not one plane, but a number of aircrafts in which the president travels. These days, that typically means two highly adapted Boeing 747-200B airplanes also known as SAM 28000 and SAM 29000. These plans can refuel in mid air and have some of the most advanced safety features known to man. They also include 4,000 square feet of floor space, conference rooms, and kitchens that can feed 100 people at a time.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.com.