Ed Driscoll

Ed Visits Air Force One

Back in September 2003, I toured the Reagan Library and was surprised to see a 707-sized aircraft wrapped in plastic protective sheathing, which happened to be Air Force One number 27000. As I wrote back then for Tech Central Station:

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley California hosts a 3.5 by ten foot segment of the Berlin Wall. If all goes according to schedule, in mid-2004 it will open a pavilion that houses the Air Force One that flew President Reagan into Berlin, where he gave his legendary “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” speech. The aircraft, sporting tail number 27000, was Reagan’s primary Air Force One, in which he logged 631,640 miles and 1,288 hours of flying time. It also flew Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter to Cairo in 1981, to represent the US at the funeral of Anwar Sadat. In 1986, #27000 was used to take Reagan to Reykjavik for his summit meeting with Gorbachev, in which Reagan refused to bargain away SDI, and in so doing, began the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

When the two modified Boeing 707s that served as Air Force One were replaced by a pair of even more heavily modified 747s in 1989, the 707s eventually became backups, and used for jaunts to runways where the much larger 747 couldn’t land.

Eventually, #27000 was decommissioned in the summer of 2001. “In July of 2001, word got out that the US Air Force Museum was going to get the retired aircraft,” Melissa Giller, the library’s director of communication says. “The Air Force Museum already has #26000 on display, and they were looking to see if someone else might perhaps want #27000. They were looking at both us and the Smithsonian, and when we got word of that, we actively sought after it.

“The story goes that President Reagan once said that he wished that his library could have his main Air Force One. So with that, and since we had the room, and the Smithsonian didn’t, the US Air Force thought it would be a great fit for us.”

And it is.

It took a year longer than expected to complete, but the giant exhibit designed to house Air Force One finally opened in late October (with President Bush cutting the ribbon) at the library–a fitting final resting place for the Air Force One most used by President Reagan.

Here a few photos of the plane and the exhibit that houses it. (Full disclosure: It was terribly overcast yesterday. and the library doesn’t permit the use of flash. So to avoid uploading a bunch of dark muddy images, I’ve color-corrected and/or pushed the exposure on the photos.)

The entry hall to the “hangar”; only the nose of the plane is initially visible, in an impressive–and seductive–bit of stagecraft and composition.

Entering the hall and seeing the 707 gives you some idea of its scale–it’s big!

Concrete pillars raise the landing gear enough to allow passage underneath the normally low-slung aircraft, and to allow for a second-story walkway for visitors.

The second-story walkway allows for entry of the plane via the door nearest the cockpit. Photography is not permitted inside the plane itself. Marine One is visible underneath.

Logically enough, the tour ends at the rear door. The plane is set-up to resemble a typical mid-1980s flight involving the President, Mrs. Reagan, and his staff. (Period magazines and briefing documents are scattered on the tables inside.)

The interior of the plane is smaller than I’d suspect most people imagine; one of the guides said to me, “It’s not as luxurious as you’d think it would be–but it beats Southwest!” (As I can attest from the flight back to San Jose last night…)

On the lower level of the exhibit, a Marine One helicopter is visible; this is the aircraft which flies the president from the White House to Air Force One, which hangars and services Air Force One in Maryland, and normally serves as its Washington, DC base of operations.

Near Marine One is a replica of a typical presidential motorcade, featuring a 1980s-era Cadillac presidential limousine, and similar era LAPD car, and trailing in the rear, a black Chevy Suburban for the Secret Service. In the background is a very large, curved painting which traces the history of all of the planes which have transported America’s presidents.

The exterior of the museum; the “hangar” is the large building at right.

(NOTE: All photos copyright © 2005 Edward B. Driscoll, Jr., and may not be reproduced without permission.)