What You Need to Know About Air Force One

Air Force One
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"Air Force One" is a term we all know well. It’s a cultural phenomenon, a symbol of leadership, success, and power in more ways than one. Of course, the original use of the term—that of the proper call sign for the presidential aircraft—is the most important of these symbols.

Here's what you need to know about Air Force One.

What Is Air Force One?

The call sign Air Force One has long represented the Air Force airplane on which the president of the United States flies. The term, though, has manifested in other, more casual and creative ways in American culture. Nike, for example, designed a shoe called “Air Force 1." Harrison Ford, who is a pilot in real life, starred as the president of the United States in a 1997 movie called "Air Force One."

Technically, the term Air Force One is the call sign for any aircraft the president of the United States boards. However, the term is now closely associated with a specific Boeing 747-200B aircraft that is designated (and custom-designed) for presidential use.

The Boeing planes referred to as Air Force One display the presidential seal and the words "United States of America" as the main part of their paint scheme, giving them fame and notoriety of their own and making them recognizable everywhere they go.

Previous Presidential Airplanes 

The presidential airplane was not always a Boeing 747. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Presidential Airlift Group, which conducted presidential flights, but the flights were conducted with various aircraft. President John Kennedy was the first to fly aboard a custom jet that was built specifically for presidential use—a modified Boeing 707.

Today’s Air Force One

The current model of aircraft—a modified Boeing 747-200B—was first used by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Air Force One is operated by the 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. The more than 1,200 Air Force members there are responsible for presidential transport as well as other VIP transport operations.

When traveling, the president typically is accompanied by a variety of other aircraft, including C-17s or C-130s, which are flown ahead of the president to carry security detail, supplies, equipment, and all of the people required to assist.

The Interior

The 747-200B offers more than 4,000 square feet of onboard space and includes a conference room, living quarters for the president, office space for the cabinet members, and dining spaces that can accommodate all passengers. There are 85 phones installed on the plane—some of which are secure enough to handle classified conversations.

Inside Air Force One is also a medical suite that can be transformed into a surgical suite. As you might imagine, a doctor is on board and ready to serve at all times.

The Exterior

The 747-200B aircraft is powered by four General Electric CF6-80C2B1 jet engines. It's equipped with both front and back airstairs, as well as a self-contained baggage loader. Another drastic difference between this 747 and others is that Air Force One has the ability to be refueled in flight, giving it unlimited range and endurance, and ensuring that our president can stay airborne as long as necessary.

Length 231 ft, 10 in
Height 63 ft, 5 in
Wingspan 195 ft, 8 in
Max Speed 630 mph (0.92 MACH)
Ceiling 45,100 ft
MTOW 833,000 lbs
7,800 nm
Crew 30
Passengers 71

The Next Air Force One

President Joe Biden may be the first president to fly on the next generation of Air Force One: Boeing's 747-8. The newest version of the landmark aircraft will provide the president with an even more capable and efficient aircraft.

The new Air Force One models will emit 16 tons less carbon dioxide emissions per trip than the older models, and they will fly 1,000 miles farther. It will fly slightly faster than the 747-200B model, making the new version the fastest commercial aircraft in the world.

The 747-8 will have a wingspan of almost 30-feet longer than its predecessor, and it will be 18 feet longer, resulting in a heavier takeoff weight: 987,000 pounds instead of 833,000 pounds.

The new 747-8 is expected to be ready by the year 2024. In 2018, the Air Force and Boeing struck a firm, fixed-rate contract that pegs the total cost for two new planes at $3.9 billion.