Air Force One - a short history of the flying Oval Office

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The beginning of presidential air travel

Air Force One isn't the name of a specific plane but the air traffic control designation for any US Air Force aircraft carrying the president. The prominent symbol of the US presidency and its power had modest roots: In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt briefly took to the skies in the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft, a Wright Flyer, making him the first flying president.

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FDR takes "Dixie Clipper" to Europe

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first sitting president to fly. In 1943, a Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat named Dixie Clipper carried him 8,851 kilometers in three legs to attend the Casablanca Conference, where he met with Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle to discuss the next phase of World War II. On the way home, President Roosevelt celebrated his birthday in the flying boat’s dining room.

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The first official presidential aircraft

Ordered for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, the special C-54 Skymaster, nicknamed ”Sacred Cow,” was the first presidential aircraft. Equipped with a radio telephone, a sleeping area and even a retractable lift to hoist FDR and his wheelchair into the plane, the Sacred Cow took Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in February 1945 the only time he used the modified aircraft before his death.

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"The Independence"

President Harry S. Truman replaced the Sacred Cow in 1947 with a Douglas DC-6 Liftmaster, named after Truman's Missouri hometown. The first presidential transport aircraft with a uniquely designed exterior (the nose was painted as a bald eagle), the Liftmaster had a range of 4812 kilometers, accommodated up to 102 passengers, had a top speed of 496 km/h and was 31 meters long.

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Presidential travel enters the jet age

From the 1960s onward, jet technology allowed for regular face-to-face meetings with world leaders. In 1972, Nixon became the first president to visit China with Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, a Boeing 707. It was first lady Jackie Kennedy who ordered Air Force One's now iconic trademarks: a bold blue and bright white, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA across the fuselage and a US flag on the tail.

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Air Force One's interior

The modified Boeing 747-200Bs can carry 76 passengers and 26 crew. From the communications room on the upper deck, the President can even launch a nuclear attack. Its 386 kilometers of wiring are shielded from electromagnetic interference caused by nuclear explosions.

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Johnson takes oath of office

One of the most famous days in Air Force One history was November 22, 1963, when vice president Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office aboard SAM 26000 hours after JFK's assassination in Dallas. The same airplane took Kennedy's body back to DC and, a decade later, Johnson's body home to Texas after his state funeral in the capital. Johnson had also used SAM 26000 to visit US troops in Vietnam.

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1972 - 1990: Boeing 707 (SAM 27000)

SAM 27000 replaced SAM 26000 in 1972 under Nixon and served as the primary executive aircraft for every subsequent president until 1990, when George H.W. Bush commissioned the first Boeing 747s. Retired in 2001, SAM 27000 has been on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, since 2005.

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Crisis command center

Air Force One is much more than a means of transport. The ability of US presidents to run the country from anywhere in the world has earned the airplane the nickname "flying Oval Office." Here, President George W. Bush, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove are having a crisis meeting aboard Air Force One on September 11, 2001.

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1990 - present: Boeing 747

After nearly 30 years in service, the 707s were replaced by SAM 28000 and SAM 29000, two Boeing 747 VC25s. They have 371 square meters of interior floor space complete with presidential living quarters, office areas, work and rest areas for staff, press and crews. Modified by the military for presidential transport, Boeing 747s have served Presidents H.W. Bush through Obama.

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The world's biggest cargo plane

While Air Force One is a symbol of political power, the Antonov An-225 stands for logistical feats. Thanks to six engines, the giant of the skies, originally developed in the 1980s in the Soviet Union, is able to haul 200 tons of freight over a distance of 4,500 kilometers. Its wingspan of 88.4m, 84m length and 905m2 of wing makes the Antonov the largest freight aircraft in the world.

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"Flying Oval Office"

SAM 28000 and SAM 29000, which have been in service for 25 years, contain secure telephone and computer communications systems as well as two galleys that can serve 100 at one sitting. At a maximum takeoff weight of 378 tons, Air Force One can take the president straight from DC to Tokyo (9,700 kilometers). Here, President Barack Obama meets with staff during a flight on April 3, 2009.

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Air Force One of the future

The next presidential aircraft will be a Boeing 747-8, equipped with defenses against electromagnetic pulses, in-air refueling capabilities and likely an upgraded onboard missile defense system. With a range from DC to Hong Kong, Donald Trump's or his successor's Air Force One will be more than twice as long and more than three times as fast as FDR's 1943 Dixie Clipper.

The US President's flying command center is arguably the most famous aircraft in the world. From FDR's "Dixie Clipper" to today's Boeing 747, here's a visual history of presidential air travel over the past 100 years.

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