Air Force One is one of the most recognizable symbols of the presidency and an undeniable presence in the sky. While we think of Air Force One as referring to the planes themselves, it is actually a radio call sign for any plane which the President of the United States of America travels on. Still, there are two planes that serve as the official planes for presidential travel under the call sign. These two highly customized Boeing 747-200B planes have been in service since the presidency of George Bush in 1990. They are the successor to the Boeing 707, which President Dwight Eisenhower added in ‘58.
The first president to fly aboard the Air Force One while in office was Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, the plane was much different from the aircraft of presidents nowadays. Roosevelt flew aboard a modified Douglas Dolphin amphibious flying boat. Ironically, nobody is actually sure that he actually flew in the aircraft. Despite the uncertainty, it stuck and became a tradition which has continued over the years. Military planes were transformed, bearing all of the latest and best technology and defensive systems to transport and protect the POTUS during times of need. Over time, the planes went through The First Lady treatment. Unsurprisingly, and thanks to President Kennedy’s always-fashionable wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the presidents have had a plane with a stunning two-toned blue paint job for the last few decades. Air Force One has a mysterious feel to it, mostly because it is completely off limits to most of us. So, now that it is expected to undergo a transformation, let’s take a look at its bells and whistles… at least those that we’re aware of.
Modern-day Air Force One was designed off of the very-modified Boeing 747. The plane features three decks. The lowest level of the plane is used for the most part as cargo space. The majority of passenger space is on the middle level, and the upper level is dedicated to communications equipment. There are two entrances on the plane. The front entrance near the nose of the plane is for the president, his family, and special guests. This is the iconic location you have probably seen in pictures, of the President waving as he enters and exits the plane.The second entrance is designated for journalists and other staff.
The plane has its own retractable stairways, for both entrances. The stairs open onto the lower deck, and crew members and staff climb internal staircases to reach the upper decks.
The aircraft has more facilities than you could ever think and dream of, and of course, it takes care of all the president's needs. One of those needs of great importance is the President's health. On the plane you will find a fully stocked medical suite, which houses a team of skilled and qualified doctors, nurses, and surgeons. It includes an extensive pharmacy, emergency room equipment, and even a fold-out operating table.
While the President's health is of utmost importance on the plane, all passengers are allowed to receive medical treatment. Most importantly, the plane is always prepared for any emergency.
4,000 Square Feet
The three decks of Air Force One stretch 4,000 square feet. Similar to the White House, the plane is equipped with everything from conference rooms, a medical suite with an operating room, a kitchen, master bedroom, and probably more things that we don't know of. The President also has his own suite that features a large office, bathroom, and conference room.
And for those accompanying the President, like senior advisors, Secret Service officers, and media, there are also special quarters for them.
In the case that a back-up for Air Force One is needed, its big brother steps in. His name is E-4B, AKA "Doomsday Plane." The E-4B is an airborne nuclear bunker and command center that was designed during the Cold War as a protection from a nuclear attack. The Doomsday is always on stand-by, following Air Force One in case of an emergency. There are reportedly four Doomsday Planes in existence.
Both Air Force One and "Doomsday" are able to stay in the air for days and outrun even the blow of a nuclear explosion. Just like Air Force One planes, most of the Doomsday Planes’ capacities are classified information.
The President needs to be ready to travel anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice. For this reason, Air Force One can fly at a speed which is close to the speed of sound. The typical cruising speed of the Air Force One is 580 miles per hour. But, it can fly or shall we say zoom up to a speed of 650 mph. It can also fly high and reach a maximum altitude of 45,100 feet, which is far above the height of commercial flights.
It's important for the plane to be able to travel fast, so when allies order a meeting promptly, the President can be almost anywhere within a few hours. And, of course, run from enemy aircraft at a record speed.
If you recall the thrilling refueling scene in “Air Force One,” i’ll have you know that it’s actually true. As with many military aircraft, AFO has a distinct ability to refuel in the air. This is usually reserved for emergency situations only.
When the plane is at 35,000 feet, it can extend a pole at its tail and take fuel from a trailing aircraft. Because of this feature, the plane is able to stay in the air for as long as necessary and keep the president safe from disaster on the ground.
Built To Survive
When you're under a nuclear attack, your chance of survival is basically at 0%. So, if that happens, you better find the AFO and take cover. In the AFO, you have a good chance of surviving an attack. Air Force One is in effect, a bunker in the case of a nuclear attack. The body of the plane has armor plating and armor-plated glass in the windows.
The plane is able to outrun the blast from a ground attack and be a blast-shelter of sorts as well. Plus, radioactive material can't impale the body of the plane. There are probably more details we don't know of because they are kept top-secret.
You'll never have to worry about going hungry while on-board and the food on board is way better than what the rest of us our eating when we fly. The place is always stocked with fresh ingredients (in case of an extended flight) which are prepared by several chefs in two complete kitchens. Most of the meals are created in a kitchen at Joint Base Andrews where they are then vacuum-sealed and frozen. The crew then reheats the meals on the plane. Two kitchens allow the staff to prepare 4-course meals for 100 people in such a tight space, at 45,000 feet in the air. One thing that is lacking in Air Force One’s kitchens are a fryer. For this reason, the fries on board tend to be soggy.
To keep top of the line food fresh what do you need? Two $12 million refrigerators, of course, the amount that the refrigerators on Air Force One reportedly cost. Fortunately and logically, the order for the refrigerators was canceled.
On Air Force One, it's not necessary to turn your phone off during takeoff, like passengers are used to on commercial flights. The President can't step out of his role for the 15 minutes during takeoff as well as during the whole flight. And if his phone stops working? Why, he can use one of the other 84 phones on the plane! There are this many phones distributed throughout the cabins to allow staff to keep working.
Besides telephones, there is also a collection of two-way radios, fax machines, 19 televisions, and different office equipment. The president and his staff are able to contact anybody in the world despite being tens of thousands of feet in the air.
Only after around 1985 could you find Coors Beer widely distributed in the United States. Before this, it could only be found in some western states. So, when President Ford visited the states that sold the beer, he would smuggle them on board back to D.C. At one time, he apparently took out AFO solely to stock up on beer.
We promise that his trip included some work as well, but the beer pickup was the prime motive.
National security was at an all-time high during the Cold War. Allen Dulles, the CIA director at the time, transformed AFO into a spy plane. Very powerful cameras were placed in the plane's wheel wells to read license plates from 29,000 feet in the air.
There is no indication that Eisenhower approved of this undertaking, and it is doubtful that he even knew about it.
Flying Command Center
The President takes to AFO when there is a terrorist attack like 9/11. During an incident such as this, AFO transforms into the "flying White House." Thanks to its mobile command center which is equipped with advanced secure communications equipment, plus an array of other top-notch gadgets, the President and his staff can lead the country when the safety of the White House is threatened.
So, in the event of an attack on the U.S., the president has everything he needs to respond. Until they receive the clear, AFO is the safest place for him to be.
Presidential Plane Takes Precedence
During a takeoff or landing, AFO becomes the top priority with air traffic controllers. It's common practice for traffic control to stop all commercial traffic at public airports when the AFO leaves the ground or returns. The Presidential plane usually lands at military airports for obvious reasons, both for security measures and to avoid the ruckus caused at civilian airports.
When the plane does make a landing, the airport is made aware of its landing well beforehand and the entire air space is cleared in order to guarantee a safe landing. During its landing, there is no help from outside services, as there is a special Air Force One team that takes care of all of the plane's activities. Of course, the plane has its own baggage loader so it never has to use an airport’s baggage facilities which could pose a security risk. And after the president leaves the plane, his vehicle is transferred to as Cadillac One, AKA “The Beast.”
Airforce Jelly Bean
President Reagan had such an affinity for jelly beans that both the Oval Office and Air Force One always had a supply of jelly beans for him. Reagan’s love for jelly beans began when he toured the White House as a young boy and was given some to eat. He felt that jelly beans were a symbol of America.
But, the crew on Air Force One is much better than just providing the President with his favorite candy. They also know how every single person likes their coffee. President Bush drank his coffee black with Equal and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took decaf with cream and Equal on the side. There was no need for them to ask.
98, 99, 100!
The kitchen may be able to feed 100 people, but that doesn't guarantee that there are always 100 people on board. In fact, for the most comfortable ride, 96 is apparently the perfect number.
And don't for a second think that all passengers get their meals for free. The cost of operating Air Force One is high. We would hope that for a plane ticket fee of $80,000 per journalist, per trip, they're at least getting some water and some pretzels for free. Because of the exaggerated cost, most journalists fly the charter plane that follows Air Force One to the destination.
You might feel like you're in grade school again because every White House administration is equipped with its own seating chart. Secret Service may allow passengers to move freely toward the back of the plane while in flight, but they definitely can’t walk forward past their own seats.
The "admins" assign the seating. Still, more than half of the seats on the plane are saved for press and Secret Service agents anyways.
The present-day Boeing 747s cost about $380 million to build. If you think that's a lot try the Air Force One. $660,000,000 - $660 million! With its many features (plus the ones we don't know about) the Air Force paid the bill in installments, of $140 million each.
And if that sounds like a lot (because it is) wait till you hear how much the deal was that President Donald Trump recently reached with Boeing Co. for the new Air Force One program- $3.9 billion!
Department Of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security is not so different than home ministries of other countries. The Department, much like its name, is responsible for public security. They are the department that deals with anti-terrorism, immigration, and customs, border security, and cybersecurity. President Bush created the department in 2002 while flying to Berlin. The department was established in response to the September 11 attacks.
The official announcement of its establishment was: "The mission of the Office will be to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks. The Office will coordinate the executive branch's efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States."
Blasting Inside And Out
The captain of the plane controls the radio. But, don't worry, the President is the one who chooses the music for the ride. When they aren’t busy managing the country on Air Force One, they too have to find ways to entertain themselves.
Clinton loved to play jazz music at high volumes, something that not many people could appreciate. He also liked to bring his saxophone on board. He apparently played music extra loud due to bad hearing.
And The Cost To Operate Per Hour Is...
When you're comparing the cost of operating AFO for an hour to the national debt, it doesn't sound like much. But, when you compare it to the $20,000 to $25,000 an hour it costs to operate a commercial 747, it's exorbitant. For $200,000 thousand an hour, you can take the aircraft out. Presidential travel is very complex and involves hundreds of people, dozens of vehicles, and a fleet of aircraft.
For the hefty cost, we're sure you're starting to understand now why there was such outrage regarding Trump's many golf outings.
While the plane is filled with the latest trends in technology, it's still not wireless. So, to power up the screens, phones, and all other devices, it's necessary to plug in. Can you imagine what that looks like? 240 miles of cables running inside the plane.
I can't imagine getting wrapped up in that mess! That would definitely be a burden to be the electrician that finished that job.
No Broccoli Allowed!
By now, you should have gathered that only the most important political figures are allowed to step foot on the plane. And of course, anything that the President doesn't agree with is strictly forbidden.
So, when the 41st President loathed broccoli, it was obvious that they would keep that off the plane. During his presidency, broccoli was never used in any of the cooking, both in the skies and on the ground.
The Perfect Movie
For some reason, fliers of AFO are big fans of the movie Fargo. Most particularly, during Clinton's 96' bid for his second term, everyone on board was watching the Coen Brother's film. It won the title of "the record-holder of Longest Playing Film Abroad Air Force One" by the popular journalist Helen Thomas.
Clinton shared that it played at least 25 times and his staff members used to repeat lines from the dark comedy.
Waiting For a Haircut
In 1993, air traffic controllers, passengers, and LAX airport shared one thing in common; their annoyance towards President Clinton for delaying many flights. The President sat on the runway, getting his hair cut, and forcing controllers to decide what they would do on a whim.
Air Traffic controllers scrambled to try and make sure that no other planes were coming and going during his haircut, creating a huge mess. But, as the President of the United States, it's important to look good, and arrive in style. We just think he could have waited until the plane was safely up in the air for that.
The "IT" Factor
While many people assume that AFO is one plane, it's actually really a name. Whatever plane the President is flying in, is called AFO. However, the president doesn’t always fly on airplanes. If the President is flying in an Army aircraft, it takes on the name Army One. And, if he's in a helicopter, it's called Marine One. So Marine One is the radio call sign for a Marine Corps helicopter which is transporting the president.
Lockheed is building six new helicopters for Marine One and the first is expected to enter service in 2020. Helicopters in the Marine One fleet have ballistic armor and antimissile defenses. Their pilots are from Marine Helicopter Squadron One, and they are known as the Nighthawks.
There is not one plane that defines "Air Force One." That being said there is still one plane that is almost identical to the Boeing plane that carries the President around the world.
There are only minor differences between the two planes, but they are both extremely large aircraft. How big? They both stand over six-stories tall.
Seal of Approval
If the Presidency had a logo, Air Force One would take the honors. It was constructed and designed to be an intimate and noticeable presence wherever it flies or sits. It's difficult to get the plane confused with another, as it's clearly labeled with the words "United States of America," with a picture of the American flag and Seal of the President of the United States. Its blue color is certainly eye-catching and was chosen thanks to President JFK’s love of the color blue. However, Trump is redesigning Air Force One and it will be painted red, white, and blue. He said in an interview that he wants to trade the “Jackie Kennedy color” for a hue that’s “more American.”
The airplane must always keep up its appearance because it is a symbol of America and the president who is riding in it. The status of the plane is also a symbol of the United State’s military and economic power and strength and is unrivaled for the most part.
The Flying White House
"The flying White House" lives up to its reputation.
The plane can hold out against EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) and other electrical phenomena, protect itself from enemy radar, deploy defensive missiles to disarm enemy rockets, and most obvious, it has all of the secure communication measures that are needed.
Air Force One is a shared collaboration between three key parties: The White House, Secret Service, and Boeing. It needs to be produced up to the standards of Boeing, have the safety measures ascribed by the Secret Service, and have the operational efficiency set forth by the White House.
The purchase of a plane can be made only in the second term of the current president so that the president can’t use the plane they chose.
This one knocks us out of the park. We know that planes can fly us across oceans. But, for the AFO, the plane can fly halfway across the world. That's around 12,000 miles.
To reach such an endeavor, the plane can carry around 52,000 gallons of fuel. With a full tank, that's enough to get it halfway around the world.
Air Force One is definitely an impressive piece of equipment, but it's not the only one of its kind. Below you'll find a list of the world's most impressive presidential airplanes, their amazing features, and how much they cost.
Mexico's Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner – $600 million
Surpassing the famous Air Force One in cost and performance, this beautiful Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner is the world's most expensive plane, at a whopping $600 million. It was the official presidential aircraft for Mexico's ex-president, Enrique Peña Nieto until he was succeeded by Lopez Obrador. This marvelous piece of equipment can fly 10,000 miles without refueling and sit up to 250 passengers. Oh, and if you're ever in the mood to do a quick trip from Los Angeles to Tokyo, you can take this baby and fly without stopping!
As if the price wasn't high enough, the aircraft costs another $100,000 a year to maintain! Any aviation enthusiast would be in awe of this groundbreaking airplane, but it's caused a stir among Mexican natives, and understandably so, since the levels of poverty and corruption in the country are soaring, and spending $600 million on a plane instead of fixing social issues is not the best way to gain the people's respect and support. Regardless, it's an outstanding piece of machinery.
Germany's Airbus A340-313X VIP – $306 million
Germany did a fantastic job at recycling a former Lufthansa Airbus A340 and converting it into a luxurious space, complete with rooms and technology. Even though Primer Minister Angela Merkel has several other airplanes at her disposal, this is the most famous one, and at $300 million, the most expensive one, too. The aircraft is officially known as the Konrad Adenauer, after the first Chancellor of Germany. All of Merkel's airplanes have the most advanced anti-missile defense technology.
The cool thing about this particular presidential aircraft is that, as we mentioned above, it was completely remodeled and turned into a modern personal jet for government officials. The aircraft can hold up to 150 passengers, and, like the other planes at her disposal, it is fully equipped with extravagant bedrooms, showers, offices and an impressive conference room. Another impressive feature is that this aircraft counts with additional fuel tanks that allow it to fly non-stop for up to 13,000 km.
Britain's Airbus A330 – $250 million
The 32nd squadron of the Royal Air Force recently purchased a $250 million Airbus A330 for British Prime Minister, Theresa May. The airplane has a comfortable 58-seat capacity for government officials and close staff, and an extra 100-seat area in the airplane's tail, for journalists. And, this nifty little machine can refuel in the air!
The UK has the presidential airplane with the biggest passenger capacity on this list, and it is also one of the most modest. Supposedly, the purchase and renovations were made taking the country's economic situation into account, claiming they actually saved a lot of money, due to smaller engines and less fuel. All in all, the airplane is quite modest, even when it comes to its interior decor, but at $250 million, it still makes our list.
Saudi Arabia's Boeing 747 – $520 million
When it comes to splurging, King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's ruler until 2015, definitely tops the list. He decided to modify this Boeing 747 and turned it into a flying palace, complete with its very own fountain on board! The airplane itself cost approximately $228 million, but the King decided to jack up its price to $520 million, by transforming its interior into something out of a 1600s royalty film set.
The aircraft is complete with 5 bedrooms, 20 smaller rooms, and a steam room made entirely out of marble. But wait, that's just the beginning. It also features a parking space for his beloved (and oh so humble) Rolls Royce, a private elevator, and a stunning grand piano with a concert hall. Frugal, huh?
Zimbabwe's Boeing 767 –$400 million
Considering Zimbabwe is among the top 20 poorest countries in the world, it's a bit ironic that its president would fly around in a $400 million airplane. However, this didn't stop president Mugabe from using it, instead of using taxpayers money to pay off the country's current $40 million debt. Regardless, it is a thing of beauty, flying at a speed of 858 km an hour.
Not only has the plane been decorated with Zimbabwe's flag colors on the outside, but it has been decorated in a way that is fit for royalty on the inside. Obviously thinking about your country's issues is not a priority when you're working from an airplane that looks like this.
USA's Doomsday Plane (Modified Boeing 747) – $220 million
We've all heard of the famous Air Force One, but surely, you didn't expect the leader of the free world to be content with just one plane? The US president has another outstanding piece of equipment at his disposal, the Doomsday Plane. Just like its eerie name suggests, this plane is to be used in case of emergencies and a getaway vehicle in the most dangerous situations.
Now, this airplane is what we would call a technological marvel. As we said, it is to be used in the worst-case scenario. Not only can this airplane be in the air for 620 hours straight, but it can also go days without refueling. It has thermo-radiation shields surrounding the plane to protect it in case of a nuclear war. What's more, the equipment on the plane is so refined and advanced that it has the power to perfectly communicate with the outside world. Oh, and it needs a special air conditioning system in order to keep all the equipment in a perfect state. Let's hope we don't see this baby in the sky anytime soon, though.
Italy's Airbus A319CJ – $90 million
Italy's presidential aircraft is an Airbus A319 Corporate Jet (CJ). It is a classic model used by president Sergio Mattarella, and even though, as far as presidential planes go, it isn't particularly ostentatious, it is still an impressive piece of equipment with a very tasteful and classic European interior.
This $90 million airplane fits 30 passengers, but as it turns out, the Italian Air Force uses another 2 Corporate Jets! Guess the Italians are not so modest, after all. The Airbus A319 is flanked by two other equally impressive aircraft, which have 50 seats each. These are usually reserved for government officials.
Taiwan's Boeing 737 – $90 million
Even though it cost a whopping $90 million, Taiwan's presidential aircraft has very modest interiors. It seems elegance and professionalism were Taiwan's main priorities when it came to Tsai Ing-wen's air transportation.
But don't be fooled, this modest Boeing 737 counts with an onboard satellite that allows perfect communication with anywhere in the world during flights.
Brazil's Airbus A319 – $81 million
With its national colors of green and yellow, the Brazilian presidential Airbus exudes a Latin American flare. At $81 million, this aircraft is a fine piece of machinery, and we're sure Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's new president, is more than happy flying around in it. It is known as the Santos-Dumont, named after a Brazilian inventor and aviation pioneer.
The Brazilian Airbus consists of three separate sections. One is for presidential use, exclusively. It consists of a big office, a stunning master suite, and a security room. Another section is for media guests, and the third is for guests of honor. It is decorated in a simple, yet elegant style.
Russia's Ilyushin IL-96-300 – $50 million
It's not surprising that a world superpower like Russia would have an equally powerful presidential aircraft. President Vladimir Putin's main mean of aerial transportation is an Ilyushin IL-96-300, and it cost around $50 million. But that's only for the airplane itself, redecorating the interiors was a whole other story.
The interior of this magnificent aircraft has a neoclassical style, combining gold and cream colors. The plane is comprised of Putin's luxurious master suite, which includes a grand, king-sized bed, a spacious bathroom with a gold-plaited toilet, a very expensive private wine collection, a gym, and a war room complete with a gold-trimmed conference table and cream-colored leather seats. No wonder Putin is rumored to have clocked in more air miles than all other Russian presidents put together, who wouldn't want to fly around in this thing?!
France's Airbus A330-200 – $240 million
Emmanuel Macron, France's current president, seems to want for nothing when it comes to flying. France's Airbus A330-200 is a modern and reliable aircraft designed for comfort and incomparable with other equipment when it comes to practicality and necessary amenities.
Apart from being very practical, the plane has a beautiful interior decoration throughout. It consists of a private presidential suite with a shower, a huge conference room with 60 seats, and more. The best thing about this airplane, though, is its far-reaching internet, which the president can access up to over 10,000 meters above ground.
Japan's Boeing 747-400 – $300 million
Japan may be known for its natural and simple values, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seemed to put that aside when he purchased his $300 million presidential aircraft.
This lavish Boeing 747-400 is a jaw-dropping machine, complete with four massive engines, automatic systemization, integrated winglets, and a beautifully tasteful interior design.
Jordan's Airbus A340-600 – $275 million
Jordan's presidential aircraft is a thing of beauty. The $275 million Airbus A340-600 has one of the most advanced aviation technologies, with four Rolls-Royce engines that enable it to use significantly less fuel than other airplanes, making it a more "economical" and environmentally friendly option. This small aircraft can travel 7,800 km without refueling, and reach an altitude of 12,500 meters.
However, around 2009, the King purchased a more modest $50 million aircraft, a A318-112 Elite. This is the shortest aircraft in the Airbus family. While the aircraft is smaller, it has state-of-the-art facilities and is as lavish as can be, complete with a bedroom, bathroom, office and classic dining room. The cabin holds 19 passengers, but the King never likes more than eight people to be in the cabin at one time. We get it, you don't want to feel crowded in your own $50 million plane.
Bangladesh's Boeing 777-300ER – $260 million
When you think of Bangladesh, you don't immediately think of extravagance. We think of beautiful landscapes and a country that is still, sadly, very much suffering from poverty. But that didn't stop president Abdul Hamid from purchasing a $260 million piece of equipment for his official travels.
The good thing is, at least the airplane is an environmentally friendly option since it emits 22% less carbon dioxide than other airplanes of its kind. It has twin General Electric engines that make it one of the world's highest-performing airplanes.
Yemen's Boeing 747SP – $300 million
Yemen’s president, Abdrabbuh Hadi, used to fly around in a $300 million Boeing 747SP, before it was destroyed in a fire after an attack at a main airport, during the country’s civil war.
After this happened, in 2015, the modest president decided he wanted to purchase a $75 million airplane the second time around. Not many details are known about the inside of the plane, apart from the fact that it is completely fitted for a VIP configuration.
Qatar's 14 Aircraft – Over $100 Million Each
Being one of the richest people on the planet, we didn't expect Qatar's Emir, Tamim Al Thani, to have anything short of a palace when it came to his presidential aircraft. But what we also didn't expect was for him to have 14 of them! They all belong to the Emir's personal airline, Qatar Amiri Flight. And why wouldn't you just purchase your own airline at that point? Even if each little aircraft sets you back a modest $100 million?
The Emir of Qatar doesn't travel light, taking his entourage of up to 1,000 people with him on official government trips. And he apparently likes to flaunt his numerous aircraft collection, as he once went to Japan to visit the Primer Minister and arrived with 10 jets!