There are few planes as famous as Air Force One. History and pop culture have immortalized the famous presidential plane. Even the current president, a man not easily impressed, seems to enjoy this perk of his job. But those big jumbos we see ferrying the president about are slated for retirement. What happens to an aircraft that has served as Air Force One?
Air Force One isn’t a plane; it’s a flight
Officially, Air Force One isn’t a plane; it’s a flight. Any government plane the president travels on is designated as Air Force One. Most of us associate Air Force One with the VC-25A. They are the highly modified Boeing 747-200Bs we see presidents scooting on and off. The United States Air Force operates two of them.
But neither plane is exactly factory fresh. While they command attention wherever they land, both planes have been in the air for thirty-plus years. Ronald Reagan ordered them back in the 1980s, and both first took to the sky later that decade.
Now, the United States Air Force has ordered two new replacements. The VC-25B is based on the Boeing 747-8 but will not be ready until 2024. Hopefully, Boeing will run on time for this order!
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There’s more than one Air Force One
This has given rise to speculation about the future of these two birds. You can’t exactly strip them and park them in the Mojave. Well, you could, but it would be dissing history, so that is unlikely to happen. While the current VC-25As still have a few years to fly, there appears to be no shortage of willing takers.
Keep in mind that these two aircraft are just the first Boeing 747s used as Air Force One to be retired. Plenty of previous aircraft, also designated Air Force One, have ended their flying days. The Beechcraft King Air B90 President Johnson used to fly to the family ranch near Johnson City, Texas in the 1960s was also designated Air Force One when flying the man.
The call sign has been around since 1953 when it was used on a Lockheed Constellation flight carrying President Eisenhower. In a fluke, the presidential aircraft entered the same airspace as a commercial flight with an identical call sign. As a result, any plane carrying the president got its unique call sign.
Before the Boeing 747s took to the air in the late 1980s, the United States Air Force was using three specially built Boeing 707-120 jets to ferry about presidents. There’s no shortage of aircraft that have been called Air Force One. But none have captured the public imagination quite like the Boeing 747s have.
Where do Air Force One aircraft go when retired?
Most former high profile presidential aircraft survive, firmly trussed to the ground, at the Presidential Gallery of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. There you will find one of the Boeing 707s, or technically, a VC-137. There’s also another Boeing 707 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California.
Reportedly, the George and Barbara Bush Foundation have put their hand up for one of the Boeing 747s after they are retired. George H. Bush got to enjoy the two 747s when they were brand new. His library and museum are at Texas A&M University. Getting the big plane there would be an interesting logistical exercise.
While other 747s are also nearing the end of their useful lives, they rarely go into such rarefied retirement. Most get on sold to work as freighters, workhorses, broken up for scrap. Others quietly rust away in aircraft boneyards. But the Air Force One planes are unique. Who they’ve flown, why they’ve flown, the events that happened on board, the fit-out, the customizing, and the snappy Raymond Loewy designed livery and color palette (you can thank Jackie Kennedy for that) ensure that these planes will live on.