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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Going for the One

Most people are aware that whatever United States Air Force plane is carrying the president immediately is designated “Air Force One.” But it’s safe to say the image that comes to mind when the vast majority of people hear that designation is the massive, four-engine Boeing VC-25A.

Air Force One/VC-25A takes to the skies at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on September 17, 2022. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

Based on the regal and legendary Boeing 747-200 passenger airplane, the two VC-25A’s are fielded by the Presidential Airlift Group assigned to the Air Mobility Command’s 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. First entering presidential service late in 1990, the VC-25As conjure a majestic aerial presence whenever they take flight.

Last week, however, public attention turned to the future and a next generation of presidential aircraft, the new Boeing VC-25B. Based on the later generation 747s, and therefore larger than the VC-25As, the goal as always is for the new aircraft to provide dependable transportation with enhanced communications and security capabilities. As the USAF has noted in a press release, “Modifications to the aircraft will include electrical power upgrades, a mission communication system, a medical facility, an executive interior, a self-defense system, and autonomous ground operations capabilities.”

While the enhanced functional features of the VC-25B were planned all along, one aspect of these aircraft remained uncertain: their appearance.

Then-President Donald Trump revealed his plans for a revamped Air Force One in an exclusive granted to ABC's chatty Good Morning America broadcast in June 2019. Video image: ABC News

In June 2019, then-President Donald Trump revealed his vision for a complete re-vamping of the look of Air Force One, which had shared design cues stretching back to the Kennedy era. The Trump design looked more like a commercial aircraft, heavy on contrast. It called to mind the paint schemes of Trump’s pre-presidential private jets, with a strident, blood-red stripe extended nose-to-tail busily bordered above dark blue.

President Trump soon had a model built reflecting his plans for Air Force One, the replica strategically placed to hopefully generate envious glances from other world leaders such as Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, seen here with Trump in June 2019. Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Trump found the new livery to be perfect; last week the Air Force begged to differ. Pointing out that the issue of appearance did not demand final specification until this later stage of the VC-25B program’s development, the Air Force rationally pointed out an issue with the dark blue expanses demanded by Trump. “A thermal study later concluded the dark blue in the design would require additional Federal Aviation Administration qualification testing for several commercial components due to the added heat in certain environments,” noted a USAF press release issued on March 10. The bottom line is Trump’s vision will remain unrealized.

United States Air Force concept art of the final approved design scheme for the VC-25B aircraft. Image: USAF

The new final design elements – recently approved by President Joe Biden -  are far less weighty, sympathetically continuing the current design theme with minor modifications. Overall, the scheme is one that portrays the aircraft as part of the skies it travels through via cloud-white and sunny-day-blue sections, accented with a single, narrow gold center-line stripe.

The new Boeing VC-25B depicted at rest, ready for presidential flight duty. 
Image: USAF

But just don’t expect to see these new VC-25Bs in action any time soon. Delivery dates for these two new presidential aircraft have slipped from September 2026 and February 2027 to most likely some time in 2027 and 2028.