The US Air Force’s aging VC-25 aircraft are being replaced in the near future. The 747 variant is most commonly known as “Air Force One” when the president is onboard. The pair of VC-25As will be replaced by two VC-25Bs – modifications of the newer Boeing 747-8. According to the United States Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center (LCMC), modifications are now underway for the former commercial aircraft.
The official long-haul aircraft for the president of the United States, the most recent version of Air Force One is based on a Boeing 747-200. As these were delivered in 1991, they are aging and have been superseded by much more fuel-efficient equivalents. According to FlightGlobal, this next variant – the VC-25B – will transport the commander-in-chief for the next 30 years.
The journey thus far
According to FlightGlobal, the aircraft were originally built for a Russian airline by the name of Transaero. However, the airline filed for bankruptcy in 2015 before it could take delivery of the jumbo jets.
In spring 2019 the aircraft made their ferry flights to the Boeing modification facility in Texas to begin pre-modification preparations. This included removing the following parts of the jets:
- Commercial interiors
- Auxiliary power units
- Numerous secondary system components
With preparations out of the way, modifications could begin.
Modification phase now underway
On February 25th at Boeing’s San Antonio, Texas facility, modifications began for the first of two 747-8s. Here is what initial modifications will consist of:
“The first phase of aircraft modification involves cutting out large skin and structure areas in both the forward and aft lower lobes of the aircraft and then installing two newly manufactured superpanels. The superpanels contain structural upgrades and cutouts for the VC-25B lower lobe doors, including internal airstairs for mission requirements.” -US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center
The LCMC adds that personnel from both Boeing and the US Air Force’s VC-25B Program Office began day one of modifications with a Foreign Object Debris (FOD) sweep through both the facility and the two aircraft. This is to ensure the work area is free of debris and will be a daily practice in the facility. In fact, the program has a motto relating to this practice: “Start FOD-Free, Remain FOD-free”.
At the opening shift brief, Chris Ahsmann, Boeing Vice President and VC-25B Program Manager, told his team to “work diligently while following our practices of first-time quality, safety first, and security of the aircraft”.
This was followed by words from David Moenter, VC-25B Mission Systems Program Manager, who said,
“You are here as the best of our country; you represent all Americans in the work you have before you to transform these two bare 747s into the aircraft that will proudly represent our country around the world.”
What’s being modified?
The VC-25B modifications to the 747-8 aircraft will include the following types of upgrades:
- Electrical power upgrades
- A mission communication system
- The inclusion of a medical facility
- Installation of an executive interior
- The addition of “autonomous ground operations capabilities”- built-in retractable airstairs so that the aircraft doesn’t need to rely on ground-based staircases
- The aircraft is likely to also include missile warning systems and advanced defensive technology such as chaff dispensing systems and directional infrared countermeasures
With the new aircraft expected to begin operations in 2024, we are a long way away from seeing these aircraft in public. The new livery for the jets is actually still ‘up in the air’, no pun intended. Until then, the two aging VC-25As will faithfully serve the president and his staff.
Are you excited about the new “Air Force One”? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.