Air Force One has served as a backdrop to many official visits and duties carried out by one of the most influential persons in the world. According to the White House’s website,

“Air Force One is used to designate any Air Force aircraft carrying the President, but it is now standard practice to use the term to refer to specific planes that are equipped to transport the Commander-in-Chief.”

A State of the Art Office

Air Force One is the President’s office in the sky and for practical and good reasons. An office in the sky! How cool is that? Here I was thinking of an office in heaven where there’s free coffee in the pantry. Well, most of us are just average people carrying out ordinary office tasks. After all, it’s not as if we’re making decisions that could impact the world. Just saying.

So, let’s take a brief tour of it. Oh, and by the way, did you know that Air Force One is a ‘radio call sign’?

A lot of us think that Air Force One is referring to the planes themselves. However, it is technically a radio call name. It refers to any plane on which the US President travels. “Air Force One” is simply the plane that flies the president. Here we are spitting out facts about Air Force One, as many as permitted in this article.

Officials gather inside Air Force One for the swearing-in of President Lyndon B. Johnson at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Officials gather inside Air Force One for the swearing-in of President Lyndon B. Johnson at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

An article from Mental Floss says that the plane is built with a large office, bathroom, bedroom, and conference room that will serve as an airborne Oval Office. Aside from those, it also comes with a medical center/operating room and a doctor present on every flight in case of an emergency. The kitchen is also equipped to prepare up to 2000 meals on a flight and feed up to 100 people.

On top of that, the plane has 85 telephones. This is what “staying ready” means, while the rest of us are used to just ‘getting ready.’ Air Force One also has quarters for the people who accompany the President. This includes senior advisors, traveling press, Secret Service officers, and other guests. There are several cargo planes that fly ahead of Air Force One. They provide the President with vehicles and services that will be needed in remote locations.

Quirks of Air Force One 

One of the many features of Air Force One that’s incomparable to a commercial plane is its ability to refuel midair. Still citing from Mental Floss’ article, the maneuver to refuel that plane in midair is usually reserved for emergency situations. Air Force One has a refueling probe on the aircraft’s nose where an Air Force refueling aircraft can hover overhead and presumably be sucked dry by the big Boeing. Being able to refuel mid-air could keep the president in the air indefinitely, especially if there’s an unsafe situation on the ground. While useful, the plane has reportedly never made use of that function while a president was on board.

While the aircraft has 4,000 square feet spread over three floors and 85 telephones, it only has seats for 70 passengers.

It is hardened against nuclear attacks and has armor plate and even armored glass in its windows.

It’s still pretty fast, it busters along at 600 mph and can reach 45 thousand feet which is well above the height and speed of commercial airline traffic.

It also is packed with a state of the art suite of electronic countermeasures including radar jammers, flares, and other devices to deflect inbound missiles fired from the ground or the air. This includes the Department of the Navy’s Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (DON LAIRCM) system. This system uses a laser to overwhelm the heat sensor on IR missiles and can actually steer them away from the targeted aircraft.   Because of its size, The big Boeing has room for redundant systems as well.

There is an armory on the aircraft with weapons for the President’s secret service detail that goes a bit beyond sidearms too.

Air Force One also never parks at an airport terminal. Well, this could be a no-brainer. According to War History Online,

“This is done for two main reasons; security and to enable a quick take-off if needed. Maneuvering such a large aircraft in and out of an airport terminal is a difficult process and could cost the president valuable time in an emergency.”

For this reason, the pilots of Air Force One are always in the cockpit and ready to start engines and get moving at a moment’s notice.  There are also relief pilots aboard just in case the flight it very long or one of the pilots becomes ill.

Being the leader of a whole country meant you always have places to go and things to do, so every second counts. Thus, the president could usually be seen walking down a staircase in the open air after landing. When not used, it is parked at a military facility just outside Washington called Joint Base Andrews.

Mishaps at the Air Force One

Air Force One United States Secret Service
Air Force One United States Secret Service. (Anthony Quintano from Westminster, United StatesCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking of staircases, did you know that the one used at Air Force One has been a witness, or should I say culprit to many mishaps? Now, we should remember Presidents are humans too. They trip, they fall, and with their celebrity status, some of these moments of clumsiness or small accidents were caught on camera. An article written by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher for Forbes recounts the times the Presidents of the US tripped on the famous staircase of the Air Force One. Some of the names there are current President Biden, Obama, and Trump.

Surely, this plane, along with all the history it continues to carry throughout the years, will always be one of the many symbols we’ll attach to the US President.