The fate of the most iconic “Jumbo” to ever take to the skies – Air Force One – has been set in stone. The pair of Boeing 747s that were first used by President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s – known by the Air Force as VC-25As – will soon reach their expiration dates in favour of a new Air Force One program slated to cost up to US$5.3 billion (AU$6.9 billion).
The incoming Boeing 747-8i aircraft are larger, more cost-efficient, and will replace the ageing models under the designation ‘VC-25B’. While the term ‘Air Force One’ has been used to refer to the pair of iconic blue and white 747s often seen in Hollywood, the callsign is actually applicable to any aircraft that is carrying the President of the United States.
According to DefenseOne, the total project cost includes the two chariots, interior fit-outs, special Air Force modifications (highly classified war-time capabilities), and a new hangar at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
The program began under President Barack Obama but was mostly influenced by Donald Trump. The latter publically complained about the high costs of the initiative and sort an alternative before he even took office.
Then-Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg met with then-President-elect Trump at Mar-a-Largo in Palm Beach, Florida to discuss a US$4.2 billion alternative – purchasing two new 747-8i jets but only installing the presidential configuration on one of them, and a standard VIP interior on the other. Another even more scaled-down option considered buying one new 747-8i and keeping one of the existing Air Force One jets.
Eventually, Trump settled on buying two ‘secondhand’ aircraft from Boeings that were originally meant to be delivered to the now-defunct Russian airline, Transaero. The US$390 million deal saw the jets moved from storage in California to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, for work to begin.
There will be some overt and covert changes to the new Air Force One, with the planes’ design set to feature more red, white, and blue.
While the VC-25As currently have the capability of air-to-air refuelling for emergency scenarios like nuclear war, the feature has actually never been used. Thus, the VC-25Bs will only have a range of 5,900 nautical miles, which can take the President from Washington D.C. to Tokyo or Tel Aviv in a single hop.
Interestingly, of the outrageous total program cost, US$84 million will go towards the owner’s manual. What’s even harder to comprehend is that the manual will clock up 100,000 pages and won’t even be ready for delivery, but rather in January 2025.
Boeing has also announced an end date for the 747 in general after over a half-century of flight, with Atlas Air scheduled to receive the last four models in 2022.
It’s projected the next generation of planes will host President Biden and his commander-in-chief successors for up to three decades from 2024, which is when the program is scheduled for completion. Impressively, the Queen of the Skies has already served nearly 50 years in operation and is set to be phased out next year, so the VC-25Bs could be some of the last new examples to ever enter service.
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