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Air Force One is an aviation call sign which refers to an aircraft carrying the President of the United States (POTUS). In popular culture, the term has come to mean the aircraft itself, whether or not the President is on board. In actuality, two specially equipped Boeing 747-200Bs are reserved for the use of the President, with tail numbers 28000 and 29000. While in flight, Air Force One serves as a mobile White House, and the planes are outfitted with advanced telecommunications equipment for the President and his or her staff to use while en route to a destination.
The Air Force designates Air Force One as VC-25A when the President is not on board, and is responsible for maintaining and equipping the aircraft. Other military forces also provide transportation to the President on aircraft such as Marine One, a helicopter, and Army One. Because the safety of the President is paramount, flights of Air Force One are run much like a military operation when the President is on board, and certain precautions are taken to ensure that the integrity of plane is not compromised. All of the crew members are carefully screened, and the plane has an assortment of defense systems including heavy shields against electromagnetic pulses and other electronic counter measures. In addition, the plane can be run as a self contained unit, with its own stairways, baggage loader, and midflight refueling capabilities.
The plane itself is uniquely outfitted, although the exact details, including the full layout, are classified. Superficially, the plane resembles a conventional 747 from the outside, but once passengers get inside, the full scope of Air Force One becomes apparent. Over 4,000 feet of usable floor space is broken up onto three levels. Air Force One has a conference room, several offices, a medical suite, quarters for the President and partner, a workout facility, and a lounge. In addition, the aircraft has two galleys capable of feeding the full complement of 70 passengers and 26 crew members who can be accommodated by the plane. In freezer storage below, enough food for 1,000 meals is kept ready for use.
Four jet engines power Air Force One, which can travel at a maximum speed of 700 miles per hour (1,126 kilometers per hour). Fully fueled, the plane can travel halfway around the world without stopping, and is usually accompanied by an Air Force escort. Air Force One is also often preceded by a C141 Starlifter cargo plane, which carries the President's motorcade. The crew of Air Force One often forms close bonds with the President in office, and provides first class service to all passengers on board the famous aircraft.
In addition to providing transportation for the President, Air Force One is also a popular symbol in American culture. The plane also serves a vital purpose for the Presidential administration, because it can be used as a secured mobile bunker in times of emergency, providing emergency medical treatment, food, and conference space. The specialized planes are an important part of the fleet of vehicles which serve the POTUS while in office, and people interested in knowing what it is like aboard Air Force One can visit the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
I saw Air Force One land in Huntsville, Alabama a few years ago. Huntsville doesn't get any 747 passenger planes (only cargo planes), so seeing any passenger 747, much less Air Force One, was a real thrill.
Air Force One is a beautiful plane. It's a gorgeous Federal blue and white and always shines with a mirror finish. It's an incredible symbol of the USA and it is one of the most impressive airplanes I've ever seen. It's an absolutely gorgeous plane and you can tell what it is from a long way away. Seeing it land was a treat.
The National Geographic Channel did a great special several years ago about Air Force One. It was absolutely fascinating. You got to know the pilots, the staff, the stewards and there were interviews with past presidents as they spoke about what it was like to fly on the plane. The program also covered some of the history of the plane.
A clip that made me laugh was from President George H.W. Bush, when he said what he missed most about flying Air Force One was that they never lost his luggage. It was an excellent production and I learned a lot by watching it.
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