Boeing 747-8 to become the new Air Force One

By David Flynn, January 29 2015
Boeing 747-8 to become the new Air Force One

Boeing's 747-8 will become the next generation Air Force One, with two of the highly modified jets due to fly around 2021. 

The Pentagon confirmed the decision overnight, according to The Wall Street Journal, and will see the retirement of the US President's current Boeing 747-200 planes which have now clocked up 25 years' service from Presidents Bush the First to Obama.

The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is a stretched version of the classic Boeing 747-400, although the 747-8 has been far less popular among airlines than its smaller sibling.

The WSJ said that the Pentagon only evaluated four-engined jets, which left the Airbus A380 as Boeing's only competitor – and unsurprisingly, "Airbus executives have previously said they were unlikely to bid for the contract."

Fun facts about Air Force One

1. Air Force One isn’t a plane, it’s a callsign

We all know Air Force One as a majestic white-and-blue Boeing 747, but ‘Air Force One’ is actually the callsign of any US Air Force aircraft carrying the President.

So if the Commander-in-Chief bums a ride on the rattiest Air Force mail delivery plane, that aircraft enjoys a brief moment of glory as Air Force One.

In the unlikely but not unheard of instance that the President travels aboard a regular commercial airline, that aircraft adopts the callsign of Executive One. An aircraft carrying members of the president's family, but not the president himself, can assume the callsign Executive One Foxtrot. 

2. There are two ‘Air Force Ones’

Only two of the highly-modified 747-200Bs – officially known as the model VC-25 – were ever built, and both were bespoke jobs for the White House.

They're practically identical but for their tail numbers of 28000 and 29000. Because, you know, it’s always good to have a spare... 

3. The President lives and works at the pointy end

While you’d think the upstairs cabin of the 747 would be well suited to serve as the President’s working or sleeping quarters, the upper deck is given over to the communications room (as well as the cockpit, of course).

The very front of the Air Force One serves as private quarters for the President and the First Family, including two couches that can be converted into beds. Next door to this an ‘Oval Office in the sky’ where the President takes meetings.

President Barack Obama explains why double status credits are A Good Thing
President Barack Obama explains why double status credits are A Good Thing

This grainy snap of the President's private quarters, at the very nose of the 747, shows the 'Southwest American' design chosen by former First Lady Nancy Reagan (which we really, really hope has been updated over the years).

Further along the aircraft are meetings rooms, various private quarters for staff and guests, two kitchens and a 'medical annexe' capable of surgery.

"Okay guys, now here's how you set up a really good status run..."
"Okay guys, now here's how you set up a really good status run..."

4. There isn’t an escape pod

As entertaining as titular movie Air Force One may have been, the real Air Force One lacks the escape pod into which President Harrison Ford was hustled to escape Nasty Russian Terrorists.

Nor does the roster of extensive modifications made to the real Air Force One include the parachute ramp from which many Air Force One passengers in the movie also slipped from the grasp of those previously-mentioned Nasty Russian Terrorists.

Of course, there’s plenty more to be said about the amazing aircraft known as Air Force One – check out the video below.

Inside Air Force One (CNN)

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 442

Seems like the 747-8 is the only Boeing aircraft big enough for AF1 anyway?

31 Aug 2013

Total posts 60

777X would be near the same volume as the VC-25s.  However I think they rather the option of continuing flight when one engine must be shut down.

The A380 would be ruled out of contention due to its very limited airport access, even if Airbus did attempt to build it in the US.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 361

777x just doesn't have the majestic feeling of 747, nor does the A380, which looks like a fat whale!

Nothing can replace 747 as the Queen of the sky!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 504

And yes the A380 does not give that 'big' feel when standing close, when I see a 747, it is something special to me, since it is an old plane and the A380 just looks like a new plane which doesn't feel special.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1484

"Nothing can replace 747 as the Queen of the sky!"

Cannot agree more

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Sep 2014

Total posts 21

I hate monarchies......but long live this queen!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 504

Airbus is French so yeah the White House will never pick them, and they also pay Boeing tons of free money so I guess why not keep buying these planes from them which benefits the guys at Boeing.

12 Feb 2014

Total posts 230

Boeing have done an amazing job on the 747-8. Unlikely as it seems they have made an iconic design classic look even better. Those wings! Would look so good in Qantas livery.  Such a pity it isn't selling as it should. 

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 738

President Reagan travelled in a 707, I don't see how the actual practical space demands of the US presidency have expanded since the 1980s. 

Presidential egos, on the other hand...

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 457

A Jumbo Excepted not much else existed at the time as Presidental Transport for the longer flights.Do you think Reagan or later Bush would have gone for the last of the DC10'S and at that time the A340 Airbus was years away but they would not buy it.The only option was to make them fly commercial and all subsequent presidents

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 361

Haven't we all watched the Harrison Ford's version "Airforce One"? At the end of the movie when Harrison Ford was rescued to that crappy propeller plane, the pilot called out "xxxx (I forgot the call sign of that crappy plane, time to watch the movie again) is now Air Force One!"

So yes, I know whichever plane the president is on is called Air Force One!

But I believe Air Force One was made famous from Independence Day.

09 Nov 2011

Total posts 88

Air Force 1 was made famous the day President Kennedy was assassinated - 707 version


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Oct 2012

Total posts 2

Love that film!

I think it went something like; "ATC this is Liberty One, we are now AIR FORCE ONE!!

And the bit where Harrison Ford says to one of the baddies "get off my plane" and punches him out the parachute ramp!  Classic cinema.

QF Plat

14 Jul 2014

Total posts 29

Loved the Double Status Credit comment :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 13

I'll put my money on the 747-8 as replacement aircraft - it's not like the Yanks not to go for the big option when its on the table :) #supersizemyplane

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

05 Jan 2012

Total posts 335

In that 4th pic, Obama is saying, we're gonna give the lady on the couch a fright.

09 Sep 2014

Total posts 54

This will be interesting to see what aircraft they go for!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1379

The only real choice was the 747-8.

Not in service until 2022, so Obama's replacement may not get to use it (unless they make a 2nd term)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2012

Total posts 179

Great news if only to see the 747 keeping flying, just to note Im a massive 747 fan ;)

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

05 Jan 2012

Total posts 335

Wow.. can't wait to fly on this LOL

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Sep 2013

Total posts 187

When I had my best job in my time in the Navy, I was posted to work for the Australian Naval Attache in DC for several years.  Jimmy Carter had just been inaugrated.  Whilst there, I was in a group of foreign NCOs invited to AAFB to do a tour.  We were able to take a seat in AF2, which was a 707 and for the use of the VP.  AF1 was further protected within the air base by a strong chain link fence with armed marines every 20m or so.  This was during the cold war and they told us of the procedures when and if the balloon went up.  The 747 had a wire antenna which was a few km long and was cranked out once airborne which allowed communication with all of the their Defence assets world wide.  It also had in-flight refuelling, and their story was that if needed, the 747 could continue flying until the engines burned out. Thankfully, it never had to fly in anger.

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