On 21st September 2011, we had the experience of being on board what was once an Air Force One.
If the President of the United States of America flies on an Air Force Jet, the plane is called Air Force One. Technically, Air Force One is the call sign of any US Air Force aircraft carrying the President. In practice, however, Air force One is used to refer to an aircraft designed and used for the exclusive use of the President. Presently there are two such highly customised Boeing-747-200Bs which carry the tail codes of 28000 and 29000.
Air Force One air crafts are maintained and operated by the President's Airlift Group which is a part of White House Military Office. The Group was founded in 1944 by the then President Franklin D Roosevelt. The first President to fly a jet air craft was John F Kennedy, on a Boeing 707. The air crafts have been upgraded from time to time and the present Boeing-747-200 in use (there are two of them now) are one of the most recognized symbols of US Presidency. The air crafts are emblazoned with the words "United States of America", the American flag and the seal of the President of United States. The air crafts are capable of refueling in mid air and have unlimited range. The hardened on board electronics are devised to protect against any electromagnetic pulse. The advanced secure communication equipment allow the aircraft to function as a mobile command center in case of emergencies.
These aircraft have 4000 square foot of floor space at three levels and comprise of an extensive suite for the President, a large office, conference room and a medical suite that can function as an operating room with a doctor available on board the air craft. Two food preparation galleys that can feed 100 people at a time are available on the aircraft. The accommodation also includes quarters for senior advisers of the President, Secret Service Officers, traveling press representatives and guests. Cargo planes carrying required materials generally fly ahead of Air Force One to provide the necessary services in remote areas.
Air crafts which served as Air force One earlier have been kept on display at National Museum of the United States Air force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. One air craft, a Boeing 707 with code SAM 26,000 which served former Presidents John F Kennedy to Bill Clinton, from 1959 to 1996, is on loan to the Museum of Flight, Seattle. It has been kept in the air park and is at display at Museum of Flight at King County International Airport, Boeing field, Seattle, WA. This was the aircraft we visited and spent a few minutes in it.
The Museum of Flight is itself a private non-profit Air and Space Museum and established in 1965. It is about an hours drive from downtown Seattle. A part of the first Boeing factory by name "Red Barn" factory forms a part of the Museum. The museum contains rare specimen of air craft developed and used over the years till the specimen of Boeing 747 and The Concorde. Students of Aerospace science and general public find the museum very attractive and a visit is a rewarding experience. Development of air crafts from the time of Wright brothers, their usage in World Wars I and II, later developments etc. are displayed over a huge area. Developments from use of Wood to Aluminum and other metals is graphically displayed. Rare specimen of aircraft from other countries are also kept on display. In the air park across the museum bigger aircraft are kept for view. Among them is the first flight worthy Boeing 747 by name City of Everett which first flew in February 1969, a British Airways Concorde 214 and the Boeing 707 Air Force One.
Visitors to the museum are given an arm band for identification and are taken through guided tours around the museum. Visitors are also free to go round the museum on their own. There are specimen air crafts for children in which they can sit and enjoy simulated ride. On going across the road on the sky bridge, visitors are allowed to enter and see the air craft parked in the air park. We were allowed entry into Air Force One through the rear door and could see the seating for Senior Officials, Meeting Room, Secretariat, other facilities and the President's Chair and Table. This was the place Presidents John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Richard Nixon and others sat while traveling on the aircraft. We could also see the safe for keeping documents on flight and the cockpit of the aircraft. It was a thrilling experience for us.
President was not on board, the air craft did not take off or land. But we did have the pleasure of being on board of what was once an Air Force One and the office in the air of several illustrious presidents for over two decades. A memory we cherish for a long time to come.