A Look at the New “Flying White House” and Its Crew

By MS. ALLISON ELLIOT, STAFF WRITER

On February 15, 2021, National Geographic released a behind­-the-scenes look at the new Air Force One jets that will replace the current jets in 2024. The documentary, The New Air Force One: Flying Fortress, goes into the details behind the transformation of two Boeing 747-8 jets into the presidential “Flying White House” and its spare.

The home of the current Air Force One is Joint Base Andrews, located 10 miles southeast of Washington, D.C., in Maryland. The 89th Airlift Wing, based at Joint Base Andrews forms the prestigious crew for Air Force One.

“It is very exciting for the new Air Force One to come online. It is an opportunity for our team to take that level of service that we provide to the Flying White House and ensure it exists for another 2 to 3 decades,” said the Air Force One Presidential Pilot.

The current Air Force One has been operating for 30 years, starting with President George H.W. Bush, Sr. The first Air Force One, in the long tradition of presidential transports, began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the Yalta Conference in the 1940s to discuss the end of World War II.

It is moments from history as well as modern technology that are shaping the future Air Force One. For instance, new features will update the galley, medical bay, and communications areas on the aircraft.

The Air Force One Communications Officer is looking forward to new communications equipment. One of the communications modifications that will be made to the new Air Force One will allow the President to address the nation live in emergencies. This change was taken from a lesson in history on September 11, 2001. President George W. Bush, Jr. was in Florida when hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and for his safety he was transported to a secure location via Air Force One. Due to the lack of technology to cut through the high volume of communications traffic during that flight, President Bush was unable to address the country during the national tragedy.

The new Air Force One, like the current jet, will need to defend the President of the United States. Just as President George W. Bush, Jr. visited Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003 using Air Force One, the new jet may be called on to enter future war zones. For that reason, the defense system on the new Air Force One will also be upgraded to better defend against advanced modern weapons. According to the documentary, the upgrades will include decoy burning flares to deflect heat-seeking missiles and guided lasers to destroy guided missiles. The new jet will be heavily shielded, which will add to its weight and require wiring that can withstand the electromagnetism.

The project of updating Air Force One is a massive undertaking and will produce one of the most advanced jets on Earth and in the sky above.

All the new equipment, most of it shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, will make the new $5.3 billion jumbo jet able to defeat missiles, withstand nuclear radiation, and serve as a flying command center, with secure encrypted communications capabilities for the President.

Modifications to the jet will also increase the comfort of the President, his staff, his guests, and the crew. For instance, the new Air Force One will have two galleys that are bigger than the current galley. The medical bay will be equipped not only for advanced diagnostics but for emergency surgical procedures should the need arise. The presidential physician will make use of that equipment to protect the life of the President and monitor his health while on board. The interior of the jet—including the presidential bedroom, office, and conference room—will see a complete redesign, making use of the 20-percent-more floor space (a total of 5,000 square feet) in the new jet. The exterior will have a new paint job as well.

“One of the things we are looking forward to in the new airplane is actually having brand new equipment, and with that brand new equipment, hopefully being able to improve our customer service and take care of our passengers even better,” said the Chief Flight Attendant.

The project of updating Air Force One is a massive undertaking and will produce one of the most advanced jets on Earth and in the sky above. The new jet will measure 250 feet in length, making it the longest passenger plane in the world. Its four General Electric next-generation engines, with 17 percent more power than the previous jet, will also make it the fastest passenger-jet aircraft in the world. Its 224-foot wingspan—made of carbon fiber, saber-shaped wingtips angled at 37.5 degrees—will enable the jet to fly faster and take off and land on short runways. Modifications to the engines, which will require more energy, will enable it to use less fuel, provide 266,000 pounds of total thrust, and carry it to a range of 8,800 miles. A new design element also will reduce aircraft noise.

For the Deputy Presidential Pilot, one of the biggest changes to the jet will be in the cockpit. In the documentary, he works with a flight simulator to adjust to the all-digital display controls that will replace the analog system in the current Air Force One cockpit. Among the improvements to the flight deck are a military GPS system, enhanced terrain mapping, and controls for the defense systems. The current flight crew of four will be reduced to two with those enhancements.

The Presidential Pilot says the current jet requires “stick and throttle flying,” or “the sort of flying we grew up with.” Thus, flying the new Air Force One may take adjustments. Luckily, he and the Deputy Presidential Pilot will have time to make those adjustments before the new jet takes off in 2024 after 2 years of flight testing.

As for the current Air Force One, with its age comes a degree of charm and, of course, memories.

Among those memories are trips such as the one the crew took when, in 2018, President George H.W. Bush, Sr. passed away. Air Force One transported his remains to Washington, D.C. for viewing and then back home to Texas.

“The fact that President Bush was the first to receive this aircraft and that she was the one to take him to his final resting place is just very touching,” said a Flight Attendant.

With the new Air Force One will come new memories and historic moments.

“What can we do with the next flying White House with a larger airplane and the latest technology? I think it is a good prospect for the nation and for the next President,” said the Presidential Pilot.