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Who was the first president to fly on Air Force One?

By Hannah S January 22, 2020 0 comments

While it’s become synonymous with the blue and white jetliner stamped with the words “United States of America,” Air Force One is actually a call sign applied to any aircraft carrying the American president. The name was created following an incident in 1953, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plane found it was using the same call sign—“8610”—as a nearby Eastern Airlines commercial flight. Yet while Eisenhower was the first chief executive to travel aboard a plane designated “Air Force One,” he was neither the first to fly nor the first to have his own airplane.

The history of presidential aviation dates back to 1910, when former commander in chief Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed a brief spin in a Wright biplane. (He described the trip as “the bulliest experience I ever had.”) Thirty-three years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first sitting president to take to the skies after he traveled to a World War II conference in Morocco aboard a Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat. FDR also made use of the first official presidential aircraft, a modified Douglas C-54 Skymaster. The plane was nicknamed the “Sacred Cow” and included a special elevator to lift the president and his wheelchair aboard.

Since Roosevelt, every chief executive has flown on dedicated presidential airplanes. Harry Truman began his tenure with the “Sacred Cow”— he even signed a 1947 law establishing the Air Force as a distinct military branch while aboard—but he also used a military version of a DC-6 dubbed the “Independence.” Dwight D. Eisenhower later became the first president to employ a jet aircraft in 1959, and in 1962, John F. Kennedy took the maiden flight in a Boeing 707 decked out in Air Force One’s distinctive blue and white color scheme. The following year, Lyndon B. Johnson famously took the oath of office aboard the jet after Kennedy’s assassination.

The presidential air fleet now consists of two modified Boeing 747-200B jetliners known as SAM 28000 and 29000. The planes have been in service since 1990, but are scheduled for replacement in the near future.

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