It is unquestionably the most exclusive ride in the world: the gleaming, blue-and-white jumbo jet that answers to the call signal Air Force One.

It’s an American icon, as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon — the airplane that will take President Obama on his second journey to India in January 2015.

(© AP Images)
(© AP Images)

U.S. presidents use a pair of Boeing 747-200B wide-bodied aircraft. The two jumbos are interchangeable. The second flies backup on presidential missions, usually landing at a nearby airport so as not to confuse onlookers gathered to greet the president.

The name and the plane

The president’s plane was first designated Air Force One in the 1950s, after air controllers briefly confused President Dwight Eisenhower’s Lockheed Constellation with a commercial airliner. In fact, any military plane with the president aboard is called Air Force One, but it is the gleaming jumbo that has captured Hollywood’s fancy.

President Obama laughs with aides aboard Air Force One en route to Singapore. (White House )
President Obama laughs with aides aboard Air Force One en route to Singapore. (White House )

No, there isn’t an escape pod or a parachute ramp. But the aluminum skin is fortified to withstand the electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear explosion, and the plane’s secure communications equipment allows it to function as a mobile command center should the United States be attacked. The plane is capable of refueling in midair, though that has never been done, according to retired Colonel Mark Tillman, a former longtime pilot of Air Force One.

The jumbo is 70 meters long, with a 59-meter wingspan and a tail rudder that stands six stories high. It has nearly 386 kilometers of cables and wires, twice as much as a commercial 747 jetliner.

Presidential accommodations

The president’s suite occupies the nose of Air Force One. It has two couches that fold into twin beds, a separate dressing room, lavatory and shower, and a spacious office. There is a medical facility with a foldout operating table and a closetful of medicines. An additional conference room and seating compartments serve staff, guests, Secret Service agents and the news media. There are six lavatories and two galleys. The plane carries 76 passengers, who can watch movies, make calls or access the Internet from their seats.

President Obama looks out of Air Force One during the flight in Australia. (White House)
President Obama looks out of Air Force One during the flight in Australia. (White House)

Frequent press corps fliers say the food is good, but not gourmet; the White House chef does not travel with the president. But they say the service by attentive Air Force stewards is great.

When Obama travels, Air Force cargo planes ferry the presidential limousines, Secret Service vans and, if needed, a dismantled Marine One helicopter ahead of time to meet the president upon arrival.

President Obama celebrates the 20th anniversary of Air Force One with members of the crew during a flight in 2010. (White House)
President Obama celebrates the 20th anniversary of Air Force One with members of the crew during a flight in 2010. (White House)

Tillman, the former Air Force One pilot, said flying Air Force One always brought a thrill. “It’s a tremendous feeling,” he said. “The motorcade pulls up, and [the president of the United States] comes walking up your stairs, and now he’s yours. It’s your responsibility to keep him safe.”

This is adapted from an article by freelance writer Chris Connell.