A ‘fake’ Air Force One

Sometimes things are not what they seem……the aircraft in the photograph looks like one of the two Presidential Boeing VC-25A aircraft, the heavily modified Boeing 747-200B which serves as the VVIP transport for the President of the United States of America and his extensive staff, and can span the globe. When the President is being carried, either of the VC-25s has the call-sign ‘Air Force One’.

There are a whole range of highly classified self-defence and communications systems fitted into the basic airframe (many located on the upper deck, aft of the flight deck) to make it fit for its role, some of which would only be needed if a national emergency should arise whilst the President was in the air. Following the 9/11 attacks, both of the aircraft were modified to enable the President to address the nation on TV, in flight, during any emergency, from his private office in the VC-25. Despite the copious nature of the storage space in the VC-25’s hold, there is simply not enough to accommodate the needs of the Presidential party. Consequently, there is a dedicated fleet of heavy military transport aircraft which travel in advance to the assigned destination; these can carry security personnel, armoured limousines, and USMC helicopters (which operate as ‘Marine One’) if required.

Both VC-25 aircraft were delivered in 1991, during the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, and finished in a distinctive colour scheme of blue and white. They were assigned to the Presidential Airlift Group of the 89th Airlift Wing, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, who organise Presidential air transport, as well as that of other high officials. The problem that the United States Air Force now has is that both aircraft are rapidly approaching the end of their useful lives. Consequently, the US Government asked for proposals from both Airbus and Boeing for a replacement aircraft. EADS North America decided that it would not be worth their while assembling just two Airbus A380 aircraft in a US facility, so that left Boeing as the only bidder. There was a contentious bidding process, during which the US Government disagreed with the price of two new-built VC-25B (based on the standard 747-8 airframe). Finally, it was decided that the two VC-25B would be based on two unsold 747-8 aircraft, originally ordered by the now-bankrupt Russian carrier Transaero, and which were stored in the Mojave Desert. Amongst the many modifications there will be a military-grade GPS and an IFF system. What is the aircraft shown in the photograph, then?

It is actually a Boeing 747-212B, formerly of Evergreen International, and retired to Quonset State Airport, Rhode Island (OQU). I had seen it parked at Quonset for some years previously, wearing its last in-service livery. This particular 747 was built by Boeing at their Everett plant and delivered to Singapore Airlines in July, 1973 as 9V-SIA. Its next operator was the famous Flying Tiger Line with which it stayed from 1979 to 1982. The next move was to an even more famous airline, no less than Pan American World Airways, in March, 1983; Pan Am named it ‘Clipper Water Witch’. A major change came in 1991, when it was acquired by Evergreen International Airlines, who had it converted for cargo service. The following year, the 747 was leased to Saudi Arabian Airlines, were it carried cargo to many destinations during a 10 year stay. The lease ended in May, 1992, and it was taken back into Evergreen service. It was finally withdrawn from use, after a service career of no less than 46.2 years, and was stored at John F Kennedy Airport, New York on 11th August, 2012. A move to Kansas City International came in October, 2014 where it was stored until June, 2015. The final move to Quonset came on the 16th June, 2015, when the owner of record was listed as Mojave Jet Asset Services , LLC, and it was still carrying its Evergreen registration, N485EV.

The new owner eventually decided to paint the aircraft as ‘Air Force One’, and has given the aircraft a whole new career as an educational tool. It has now been moved from Rhode Island, down the East Coast of America to the National Harbor, on the Potomac River in Washington D.C. This difficult task was undertaken by HLI Rail and Rigging Inc. who used a giant barge. The aircraft is now safely ashore, where it will be used to educate and entertain pre-booked groups of schoolchildren, as ‘The Air Force One Experience’, which is part of the ‘Children’s Democracy Project’.

“It’s a teaching aid to help children understand about democracy, using how the presidents travel as a means to explain it to them — everything from [George] Washington on his horse all the way through trains and carriages and up to Air Force One,” said Ross McLaren, of HLI Rail and Rigging.

In its eye-catching paint scheme, this replica ‘Air Force One’ is certainly an interesting and impressive exhibit, and groups of schoolchildren should indeed enjoy their 90-minute learning experience!

One comment on “A ‘fake’ Air Force One”

  1. Brilliant find Ross!


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