The VC-25 is used to usher the President of the United States and his staff on various journeys around the globe. The VC-25 is essentially a highly-modified Boeing 747-200B series model featuring state-of-the-art communications and air defense measures consistent with protecting a high ranking head of state. Two Boeing 747-200B's were converted to this VC-25 status and operate with tail numbers 28000 and 29000 respectively. Both aircraft are flown simultaneously for security and logistical reasons. It should be noted that this aircraft - or any USAF aircraft for that matter - is not officially designated as "Air Force One" until the president is onboard. John F. Kennedy's VC-137 was the first presidential aircraft to be popularly known as "Air Force One".
The idea of an aircraft dedicated to transporting the President of the United States began in 1944 with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the lovingly named "Sacred Cow" - a converted C-54 transport aircraft. President Harry S. Truman followed in his DC-6 Liftmaster series, this covering 1947 through 1953. President Dwight D. Eisenhower operated from the Columbine's II and III between 1953 and 1961. President John F. Kennedy traveled in his VC-137, a converted Boeing 707 model series.
Kennedy's VC-137 (tail number 26000) was based on a USAF C-137C model which in turn was based on the Boeing 707. This aircraft gained more significance in becoming the aircraft used to transport Kennedy's body back from Dallas, Texas in 1963. The aircraft served as the official office to which Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States following Kennedy's assassination at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald. Today, this very aircraft resides at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft exhibit details the event complete with text and pictures showing the swearing in and the area of the aft portion of the interior cabin modified to fit the coffin of John F. Kennedy for the trip back to Washington, D.C. Interestingly enough, the same aircraft transported the body of President Lyndon B. Johnson back to Texas for final rest. President Richard M. Nixon utilized VC-137 on his historic visits to China and the Soviet Union.
VC-25 (as VC-25A) arrived in 1990 with tail number 28000 (27000 served Nixon, Ford and Carter). Its first flight was in transporting President George Bush senior on September 6th 1990. The aircraft was officially introduced on December 8th, 1990. A second VC-25A (tail number 29000) was commissioned afterwards - introduced on December 23rd, 1990 - making up the full fleet of Air Force Ones on call. VC-25 with tail number 29000 was deployed for the first time on March 26th, 1991. These two VC-25's are still in operational service with the United States Air Force and they are intended to serve for quite some time longer.
The VC-25 differs from existing passenger Boeing 747's mostly in an internal way. The aircraft features a self-contained baggage loader, capability for in-flight refueling and front and rear "air-stairs". Additionally, cutting edge technology is spared at no expense in the navigation, real-time communications and electronic systems used throughout the design. The aircraft features a slew of anti-missile functionality that is held classified. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 furthered the communications capabilities of the design to a degree, evolving the VC-25 even further based on this "new world order". The interior furnishings are also consistent with the level of government and combine the comforts of a working office and the White House in a self-contained mobile platform.
The main galley can serve up to 100 persons at a given time while the crew has access to their own smaller galley as well as a lounge area. Passengers are also offered up six lavatories and full disabled access. Some 102 total passengers can be carried aboard with these consisting of a mix of guests, media personnel, security and Secret Service and presidential staffers.
The president has full access to his own in-flight office and the executive suite which contains the stateroom and comforts such as a shower, lavatory and dressing room. In addition, a conference room doubles as a dining room for family and close staff. Air Force One is also stocked with medical equipment to address minor injuries and situations.
Power for the VC-25 is supplied by four massive General Electric series CF6-80C2B1 engines delivering upwards of 56,700lbs of thrust each engine. The aircraft flies higher and faster than her commercial counterparts, yielding a top speed of 630 miles per hour and a ceiling of 45,100 feet. Range is also an important factor in a presidential transport and VC-25 does not disappoint, supplying an in-flight distance capability of up to 7,800 statute miles. With the in-flight refueling capability, this distance becomes essentially unlimited.
The pair of VC-25's are held in a special unmarked hanger at Andrews Air Force Base under intense security. The aircraft is thoroughly inspected, cleaned and waxed before every flight and must be ready at a moment's notice. Events on September 11th, 2001, exacerbated the need for the President to be in full communications with his people on the ground and the American people as well as add a defensive tool against any possible enemy attacks directly targeting the President. Pilots and crewmembers of Air Force One are carefully selected for their service to the president, a service that is deemed an honor to all with most holding their respective positions for years and even decades in some cases.