These Are the Most Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Air Force One
Donald Trump and past presidents have flown around the world on Air Force One, the plane known as the “flying Oval Office.” Trump wants to change a few things about the plane — or, more accurately, its next iteration. You might think there’s only so much to know about the presidential plane. But as Trump likely discovered, the aircraft has many quirks and plenty of unusual features.
Below, check out the most fascinating facts you didn’t know about Air Force One.
1. There are actually 2 planes called Air Force One
“Air Force One” sounds like just one plane. But Live Science reports it is actually the radio call name for any Air Force plane on which the president travels. The naming convention began after an incident in 1953, when Eastern Air Lines flight 8610 flew into the same airspace as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plane, which was called Air Force 8610 at the time. Today, “Air Force One” refers to one of two aircraft that are specially equipped to carry the president and the people he needs to travel with him. The two aircraft carry the tail codes 28000 and 29000, according to the White House. And there are two so one will always be ready to go in case of an emergency.
Next: The plane offers lots of space for people to move around the cabin.
2. Each plane has 4,000 square feet of floor space
The White House reports that Air Force One has 4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels. That includes a capacious suite for the president, with a large office, lavatory, and conference room. There’s a “situation room” and space for the press. The plane also includes a medical suite that can function as an operating room (more on that in a few pages). Plus, there are two food preparation galleys and quarters for all of the passengers who accompany the president. In fact, the planes can carry more than 70 people at a time.
Next: Air Force One has plenty of features to protect its passengers.
3. Air Force One is a ‘flying fortress’
As Business Insider reports, Air Force One functions as a “flying fortress” to protect the president and his fellow passengers. The body of the plane is built to withstand a nuclear blast from the ground. All the windows on the plane are armored. Plus, the plane has flares that can be released to confused enemy missiles. Each of the two exits is equipped with a retractable staircase, so the crew doesn’t have to rely on airport staircases that could be sabotaged.
Next: The aircraft has numerous televisions and telephones.
4. Each aircraft has 20 TVs and 85 phones
Business Insider adds that each aircraft in the Air Force One fleet has plenty of screens and phones onboard. In fact, each plane has about 20 televisions onboard. The plane also has 85 phones, and there’s an easy way to remember which ones are secure. The white phones are for unclassified use, and the beige phones are secure lines. Another random fact? It takes 26 crew members to service Air Force One, and they all wear uniforms bearing “Air Force One” and the presidential seal.
Next: The planes are due for an upgrade.
5. The planes are due to be replaced
As Live Science notes, the two planes currently called “Air Force One” are highly customized Boeing 747-200B jets that were purchased under Ronald Reagan’s administration. They began service in 1990 under George H.W. Bush. But Boeing has shut down its 747-200 production. So the government has found it difficult to replace the planes’ parts. Defense One explains in some cases, spare parts have come from jetliners parked in the desert. So during his administration, Barack Obama ordered a replacement fleet for the Air Force One program to be built based on the new 747-8 series. As Vox explains, the planes will likely cost at least $3 billion when they come into service in 2024.
Next: The planes have a variety of features you won’t find on other aircraft.
6. Air Force One has some pretty unique features
As Defense One reports, the plane that “acts as a mobile White House” has some interesting features. The plane can refuel inflight, so “if need be, it could remain airborne indefinitely. A nuclear war is likely the only time this would happen.” The plane also has communication technology that enables the president to conduct secure video and phone calls, access classified computer networks, and even order a nuclear strike. And the plane has defensive systems to evade a missile strike. Plus, the White House reports that Air Force One carries electronics that “are hardened to protect against an electromagnetic pulse” of the type that would happen if a nuclear bomb went off nearby.
Next: Air Force One has one of these in case of a medical emergency.
7. The plane has its own operating room
Another unusual feature of Air Force One? The plane has its own operating room, just in case something happens to the president or to somebody traveling with him. As the White House explains, “Air Force One includes a medical suite that can function as an operating room, and a doctor is permanently on board.” Interestingly enough, Australia’s ABC News also reports that Air Force One carries an extra reserve of the president’s blood type in a refrigerator, just in case. And the medical annex includes a well-stocked pharmacy and a wide array of medical tools.
Next: Air Force One will get this expensive upgrade.
8. Air Force One needs $12 million refrigerators
The recent news that Air Force One needs new refrigerators — two that cost almost $24 million together — made a variety of splashy headlines. The New York Times reports that two of the refrigerators on Air Force One needed to be replaced. And Boeing was awarded the $24 million contract to engineer the fridges. Surprised at the price tag? The Times notes that Air Force One has to be able to feed passengers and crew for weeks without resupplying. That requires storing about 3,000 meals in huge refrigerators and freezers below the passenger cabin. In fact, the two galleys on the plane can serve up to 100 meals at one sitting.
Next: The aircraft can fly at almost supersonic speeds.
9. The current aircraft can fly at speeds up to 600 mph
Live Science reports that the current Air Force One planes can fly at speeds that top out at about 600 mph — almost the speed of sound. “During flight, Air Force One can reach a maximum altitude of 45,100 feet,” the publication explains. For comparison, the commercial flights that the rest of us take usually fly at an altitude of only about 30,000 feet. As Australia’s ABC News reports, F-16 fighter planes escorting Air Force One had had to ask the pilot to slow down, so they could keep up.
Next: The planes need to stay in basically perfect condition.
10. The planes have to be kept in near-perfect condition
As Vox reports, Air Force One has to be kept in near-perfect condition at all times in order to reduce “the potential for a devastating accident.” The publication explains that teams of contractors “have to check the fuel that goes into Air Force One’s tanks and must keep the aging aircraft in near perfect condition inside and out.” When the planes aren’t in use, they’re stored at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C. They stay in a heavily protected hangar under the watch of round-the-clock armed guards.
Next: Air Force One costs a fortune to fly.
11. It costs $180,000 every hour Air Force One is in the air
As you might expect, the government pays a lot to operate Air Force One for the president. Vox reports that during the 2016 fiscal year, the Air Force was spending approximately $180,000 every hour that Air Force One was in the air. The publication adds, “That eye-popping price tag has led lawmakers from both parties to routinely criticize presidents for taking the planes out on seemingly frivolous or partisan outings.” Vox notes, however, that squabbles over Air Force One aren’t new. The Secret Service even flatly rejected the first potential presidential plane, complaining that it wasn’t safe enough.
Next: A small group of journalists always fly on Air Force One.
12. 13 members of the media fly on Air Force One
The New York Times reports that when the president travels on Air Force One, he takes a large entourage with him. That includes a group of senior aides, advisers on national security, domestic and economic advisers, speechwriters, and others, depending on the purpose of the trip. Also on board? 13 members of the media, known as the protective press pool, who represent wire services, newspapers, news sites, broadcast television, and radio. Journalists on the plane travel at their news organization’s expense, and they have to share the news they gather with the rest of the White House press corps.
Next: This vehicle always goes with the president when he flies.
13. The president’s limo goes with him, too
ABC reports, “Wherever the president travels, his specially-crafted limo, dubbed the ‘Beast,’ goes too.” The presidential limo is there waiting for the commander-in-chief when he lands at his destination. But it doesn’t actually accompany him on Air Force One. In fact, the Cadillac limo gets sent ahead of the president on a military cargo plane. That way, “it’s in place on the proper tarmac when the president does arrive.”
Next: Air Force One isn’t a new program.
14. Air Force One has been around for decades
As the White House reports, Air Force One has been around for decades. Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Presidential Pilot Office, which would later become the Presidential Airlift Group, in 1944. For the next 15 years, propeller-driven aircraft served the president. Then, Dwight D. Eisenhower flew to Europe aboard a Boeing 707 Stratoliner in 1959. In 1962, John F. Kennedy became the first president to fly in a jet built specifically for presidential use: a modified Boeing 707. Over the years, several other jet aircraft have served the president.
Next: Ordering new planes to serve as Air Force One takes years.
15. Ordering new planes has been a years-long process
As you might guess from recent headlines, ordering new planes to serve as Air Force One has entailed a contentious process so far. Vox reports that in 2009, the Pentagon started actively working on plans for the new planes. “From the start, the project has been dogged by a constantly growing list of technical requirements for the new planes.” It took six years of budget battles for the Air Force to announce that it had hired Boeing, the only aircraft manufacturer still making sufficiently large planes.
Next: The president has to follow these rules when ordering a new plane.
16. There are rules about ordering a new Air Force One
Defense One reports there are some unwritten rules that a president has to follow when buying a new Air Force One. The purchase has to come in the president’s second term. That ensures that the current president will never use the aircraft. In fact, the president is expected to buy the plane for future presidents, not for himself. Obama joined Reagan and Eisenhower by setting aside money for the presidential aircraft in his second term.
Next: Donald Trump offered to use this aircraft instead of Air Force One.
17. Donald Trump has offered to use his own plane instead of Air Force One
Interestingly enough, Vox reports Donald Trump has offered to use his own plane — nicknamed Trump Force One by the media — instead of Air Force One to save taxpayer money. But Vox explains, “Trump’s plane doesn’t come remotely close to matching the power or capabilities of the current Air Force One or the fleet’s planned replacements.” Trump’s plane can’t fly near or through active war zones. Nor can it survive a nuclear attack. And it wouldn’t enable the president to make a call or send an email that would stay safe from interception by other governments.
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