Why the Future Air Force One Will Be a Boeing 747-8

The two jumbo jets designated specifically for presidential transport have now been in service for more than a quarter century. Although these two modified Boeing 747-200Bs, known as VC-25s, are a couple of the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world, with encrypted communications and electromagnetic pulse defenses, they are aging. It’s time to start working on the replacement jets for Air Force One.

“It’s going to cost me money in the long run,” General Carlton D. Everhart, commander of Air Mobility Command, said of continuing to fly the VC-25s. “It’s not as efficient as a newer aircraft would be.” Everhart recently talked with Popular Mechanics about the future of Air Force One, why the next AF1 will be a 747, and how you go about turning an ordinary airframe into a plane fit for the president.


Air Force One is not a specific plane, but the call sign for any USAF aircraft with a sitting U.S. president on board. The VC-25s that do the job today entered service during George H.W. Bush’s administration. In January 2015, the Air Force announced that new Boeing 747-8s would replace the VC-25s, and the long and complicated work to select and modify two of Boeing’s largest 747 models began. After all, it’s not easy to outfit one of the largest planes in the world for the President of the United States. The job is so extensive that the current administration is unlikely to ever get a chance to fly in the new airplanes. The Air Force understands this, and they have been gearing up for the project, working with Boeing far in advance to select the specific airframes to buy and test.

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Then, in December 2016, the newly-elected Donald Trump tweeted this:

Trump’s criticism of the plan to acquire new presidential aircraft threw the 747-8’s future as Air Force One into doubt. Aircraft manufacturers and aerospace analysts were quick to put forth ideas for different AF1 options, including one particularly bold report that suggested the future B-21 bomber as a presidential transport.

More realistic studies suggested using the Boeing 737, a reliable aircraft that is already used by the U.S. Navy and USAF. Converting a 737 for presidential use would be cheaper and easier than doing so with the hulking 747-8, considering military aircraft based on the 737—like the P-8 Poseidon and C-40 Clipper—already have many of the communication and defense systems that Air Force One will need. But using a 737 over the new 747-8 would require the Air Force to abandon two of its primary requirements for AF1: that it has four engines and room for at least 70 passengers.


SAM 28000, one of the two VC-25s used as Air Force One, flying over Mount Rushmore in February 2001.
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