Although just a call sign and not its official title, Air Force One not only transports the President from A to B and back again, but it also acts as a command center and a powerful symbol of the American presidency and its power.
Starting its illustrious career as a Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper in 1943, then the C-87 Liberator, it would be a C-54 Skymaster, named ‘Guess Where II’ that would eventually be recognized as the first dedicated VIP-and-presidential transport aircraft and one that would carry President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the famous Yalta Conference in February 1945.
The make of the plane and the equipment contained within have changed over the years, but its occupant has not. This presidential plane has seen many iterations over the past few decades, but today’s Air Force One boasts some outstanding and sometimes surprising features. Here we take a look at 11 interesting things about the world’s most famous plane.
1. All The President’s Phones
As arguably the most powerful man in the world, the president has to be reachable at all times in the event of something major happening. Air Force One is essentially a flying Oval Office and actually doubles as a mobile command center equipped with state-of-the-art technology for the president to run operations from anywhere in the world at any time. In order for him to do this, the plane contains a staggering 240 miles of electronic wiring, 80 telephones, and dozens of television screens.
2. Dinner Is Served
While you won’t be surprised to learn that the president is served a myriad of culinary delights (in fact, pretty much anything he wants) onboard Air Force One, the rest of the passengers aren’t subjected to terrible airline food as the presidential plane comes with two fully equipped and stocked food preparation galleys.
The kitchen can actually serve up to 100 people on any given flight, and while you won’t be chowing down on food served in China with the presidential seal, you’ll definitely be getting a treat nonetheless. You might be interested to know what goes into your meals; well, that is kind of top secret. Why, you might ask? Well, because Air Force chefs actually go undercover to local grocery stores to purchase their products and are not allowed to buy anything from overseas.
3. Nuclear Proof
If you happen to be sitting on a plane on your way to a much-needed vacation in the sun and a nuclear war happens to break out, well, it won’t be sunburn you’ll have to worry about. If, however, you happen to be the President of the United States, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be fine. Why? Well, Air Force One is not just a plane but, in fact, a flying nuclear bunker.
Although, thankfully, the Presidential plane has yet to be tested to see whether it can actually do so or not, it does have such heavily reinforced armor that, theoretically, it is capable of withstanding a nuclear blast. The defensive features don’t stop there. Its windows are, of course, bulletproof, and its onboard defense system can not only jam enemy radar but also deflect enemy missiles and electromagnetic pulses.
4. High Flying
Another fundamental thing that separates the president’s mode of air travel from your average Joe’s is just how high it can actually go. While your average commercial airline cruises at around 30,000 feet, Air Force One is capable of reaching altitudes of 45,100 feet, not only to stay out of the flight plan of most aircraft but also for simple security reasons.
It doesn’t just stop with the heights it can reach; its speed is equally impressive. Although commercial airplanes can reach anywhere from 475 to 575 mph, Air Force One can go even faster, reaching a staggering 600 mph—that’s almost the speed of sound!
5. Stairway To Heaven
While a nuclear attack might be a highly unlikely scenario, as history has shown us, the president’s life is constantly under threat. So, when it came to designing the President’s plane, the designers had to pay special attention to any potential security risks that might arise when the plane interacts with other airports and their equipment.
A good example is the staircase the president uses to enter and exit the plane. While commercial airlines have a mobile stairway that is attached to the outside of the aircraft by ground services, Air Force One has a set of stairs inside the plane that extends outward. It also comes equipped with its own baggage loader, both features allow the president’s security staff to closely monitor who and what goes in and out of the plane.
6. Flying Hospital
Medical emergencies can happen to anyone at any time, but if they happen mid-flight, you might just hear “Is there a doctor on board’ come across the PA system. If you are the president, however, you won’t have to worry about whether there is a doctor on the flight or not, as Air Force One always has medical professionals on board.
You can forget about someone producing a simple first aid kit with Band-Aids and bandages, as the aircraft has its own medical annex that comes with its own pharmacy and even its own fully equipped operating room in case the President has a medical emergency.
7. Military Precision
Getting your average commercial flight off the ground can be a complicated and intricate business, but that is nothing compared to the military precision required to get the President’s plane airborne. To break it down into its simplest operation, first, the President is transported via helicopter from the White House to Maryland’s Andrews Air Force Base, where Air Force One is waiting.
While on the runway, the plane undergoes a thorough investigation by Air Force ground staff to ensure everything is in order and meets safety regulations. Finally, the Air Force transports the president to the waiting plane.
8. Never Alone
While it might be obvious that the most powerful politician on the planet would never be traveling on Air Force One on his own due to the plethora of aides, staff, and press accompanying him, it’s not people we are talking about here, but a second plane and one equally as powerful as the presidents.
Air Force One is typically accompanied by a Boeing E4B, a plane more ominously known as the ‘Doomsday Plane’. The plane can remain airborne for days and is on constant alert for any potential threats or national emergencies. With a staff of military analysts and strategists, the plane is essentially a flying strategy room, where staff can execute orders from the president and coordinate actions.
9. It Takes Two
Although Air Force One is usually accompanied by a second ‘Doomsday Plane’, the presidential plane actually has a perfectly identical twin brother. Like all pieces of machinery and technology, things break down from time to time, so there is always a second Air Force One waiting on standby.
If the planes are switched, it is unlikely the president would notice any difference, as both planes are kitted out to look exactly the same both outside and inside.
10. Refueled Mid-Air… Kind Of
If you are using a commercial airline, you wouldn’t be too worried about it running out of fuel as you are just going from A to B and the airline has put in more than enough to get you to your destination. What happens if you have to stay in the air for an undetermined amount of time? That’s certainly the case for the President if some event takes place and he is unable to land or needs to stay on Air Force One for security concerns.
Despite being thoroughly tested, the process of refueling in mid-air still comes with certain risks, so that’s why it’s only used in truly desperate situations. However, that won’t be an issue for current President Biden. Why? Because his predecessor decided to have the new Air Force One designed without this feature in an effort to save money.
11. How Much?
Air Force One is arguably the most important plane in the world, and as such, it comes with quite a price tag. It is estimated that it costs around $206,000 an hour to maintain and operate the plane, taking into consideration that the average commercial flight costs around $25,000 an hour.
What does all that money pay for, you might be asking? Well, apart from the obvious things like fuel, the costs cover everything from maintaining the high-tech equipment on board as well as the plane itself to gourmet food and the plane’s general upkeep. A large portion of the money goes on paying salaries for not only the flight staff and pilots but also the Secret Service agents and other presidential employees while they are serving onboard.
If you want to learn more about Air Force One, this book might be a good start.
You should also read: 9 Facts About The Pentagon Every American Should Know