Washington, D.C. — The official U.S. Presidential aircraft, Air Force One, was in the news on December 6, 2016, when President-Elect Donald Trump announced that he intended to cancel plans to purchase an upgraded version of the aircraft.
As Trump posted on Twitter,
“Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”
According to the New York Times,
“Beyond convenience, Air Force One carries an array of top-secret communications gear for conducting everyday business — and for managing a global crisis, if required, while aloft. It is also equipped with a number of never-discussed security features”.
So what exactly is on board Air Force One that makes it so expensive?
Here are the 5 Fast Facts you need to know:
1There Are Two Air Force Ones — And They’re Aging
The name of the plane makes it sound like there’s only a single Air Force One. However, there are actually two identical planes, both painted in the distinctive blue-and-white design known around the world. The current planes are Boeing 747-200 models. These have been uniquely modified by the U.S. Air Force to meet the security, logistical, and other needs of the U.S. President and the staff who fly with him.
Each plane is formally known as Air Force One only when the President is on board. The unique “Air Force One” call sign came into use following confusion that erupted when President Dwight Eisenhower’s Lockheed Constellation, with the call sign “Columbine II” entered the same airspace as a commercial airliner using an identical call sign.
The Air Force officially designates both planes as “VC-25A”. The two existing planes are aging, however. The current aircraft were ordered from Boeing by President Ronald Reagan during his administration, but because of the time needed to build in unique modifications, they weren’t delivered to the US Government until the term of Reagan’s successor, President George Bush. The two new planes to which Trump objects would not be delivered until about 2023 or 2024. As ordered, they would be more powerful, more technologically advanced, and able to travel farther than their predecessors.
2Air Force One Is Equipped for Emergency Surgery
Air Force One is loaded with emergency medical equipment, including an operating table with bright operating-room lights. This is installed at the very center of the President’s plane for emergency use. The White House doctor typically travels with the President to perform needed medical procedures.
According to CNN,
“Whether the president is overseas, on the campaign trail, or aboard Air Force One, a White House doctor is close at hand in case of a minor mishap — or a catastrophic event”.
The news service quoted Dr. E. Connie Mariano, who was a White House physician between 1992 and 2001, as saying,
“The doctor is always within a few feet away, so you essentially shadow the president”.
The President’s plane does not, however, include an X-ray machine or a medical laboratory.
3Air Force One Can Refuel Without Landing
As ABC News puts it,
“Who says you need to land to refuel a plane? Well, you don’t—at least not if you’re the Commander-in-Chief.”
Air Force One can refuel while in flight. This means that, in theory, it could be airborne indefinitely. Air Force One is equipped with a special fuel cap on the nose of the plane. While flying above the Presidential aircraft, a special American military plane can connect a gas pump to this cap to deliver fuel. The refueling cap is disguised by the plane’s paint job, although this paint would be chipped in the event that in-flight refueling should ever be performed. The in-flight refueling function is intended to be used only in emergency situations.
4Air Force One’s Communication Systems Are Encrypted — And Include 87 Telephones
To avoid having spies listen in on top-secret Presidential conversations, Air Force One’s communication systems are fully encrypted. While on the plane, all passengers aboard can be easily reached via a secure telephone system. The US President can talk to anyone in the world using one of the plane’s 87 telephones.
Of course, the plane also includes high-speed Internet access and a video conferencing system. Using that system the President could deliver a nationally televised address, if needed. In the event of an attack on the United States, such as the ones that occurred on September 11, 2001, Air Force One could become an airborne command center for the Commander-in-Chief.
5Air Force One Has Leading-Edge Defense Systems and Security for the President and Other Passengers
The particulars of Air Force One’s security system, as well as the plane’s defense capabilities, are closely guarded secrets of the US Government. However, it’s known that in spite of its benign look and attractive external paint job, Air Force One is a military aircraft.
The aircraft is purported to have 238 miles of electronic wiring in its chassis which is twice the amount you’d normally find on a commercial Boeing 747. In addition, Air Force One’s wiring is heavy-shielded to withstand the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear blast. This means it can essentially operate as a Presidential bunker if there is a nuclear attack. And should it ever come under fire while flying, it can readily fend off airborne missiles. The plane’s sophisticated technology also includes an advanced electronic defense system that can easily jam enemy radar should the need arise.