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BOEING VC-137C SAM 26000|
Note: This aircraft is located in the Presidential Gallery on a secure part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Click here for visiting instructions.
VC-137C, tail number 26000, has proudly served America's leaders for more than three and a half decades. Its list of passengers includes every president since John F. Kennedy, virtually every senior U.S. representative in the latter third of the 20th century, as well as kings, queens and heads of state from nations all over the world. It has witnessed some of America's greatest tragedies as well as some of its greatest triumphs.
SAM 26000, as it is commonly known (SAM stands for Special Air Missions), arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Oct. 10, 1962. Known to the civilian world as a Boeing 707, the aircraft was the first jet ever designed exclusively for presidential use and used the call sign Air Force One, whenever the president was aboard. When 26000 entered service, it was capable of traveling farther and faster than any other executive aircraft in the Air Force fleet. It could also operate from much shorter runways.
President Kennedy decided the new aircraft needed a distinctive look, and noted designer Raymond Loewy was commissioned to come up with a new design. The result was a striking blue and white color scheme that has more or less carried to this day. "United States of America" was emblazoned on the side of the fuselage. An American flag was painted on the tail, and because this would be the president's aircraft, a presidential seal was added on both sides of the nose.
SAM 26000 was off to an early start. Two days after arriving at Andrews, the aircraft made its first official flight, to Wheelus Air Base, Libya, to bring that country's crown prince to the United States for a visit. As the Cuban missile crisis loomed later that year, 26000 was used to bring senators and congressmen back to Washington since Congress was not in session at the time.
President Kennedy flew 26000 for the first time in November 1962, when he and the first lady attended Eleanor Roosevelt's funeral in New York. In June, Kennedy used the aircraft when he flew to Ireland and Germany where he made his famous "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" speech. A month earlier, while taking a U.S. delegation to Moscow, 26000 broke 30 speed records, including the fastest nonstop flight between the United States and the Soviet Union.
26000 also flew the Kennedys on their visit to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. That flight would be the president's last. When news that the president had been shot reached Love Field and 26000's commander, Col. James Swindal, the aircraft was prepared for immediate departure. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was also in Dallas that day. Fearing a wider conspiracy against the U.S. leadership, secret service agents rushed now-President Johnson to the safety of the Air Force aircraft, Because the communications equipment of 26000 was superior to that of the aircraft that Johnson flew to Dallas, the decision was made that Johnson should wait aboard 26000 for Mrs. Kennedy and her husband's body. Crew members felt it would be undignified for the former president's body to ride back to Andrews in the cargo hold; however, making room for the casket in the passenger compartment meant removing a partition and four seats from the rear of the aircraft. Before 26000 could leave Dallas, President Johnson took the oath of office on board the aircraft. At Arlington cemetery, as President Kennedy's body was being lowered into the ground, 26000 flew overhead at 1,000 feet and dipped its wings in final salute.
President Johnson reconfigured the interior of 26000. Additional seals were added, and the seats were reversed to face the rear of the aircraft -- toward the president's compartment. Johnson liked to be able to keep an eye on his passengers, and the cherry wood partitions that separated the passengers from the stateroom were replaced with clear plastic dividers. He also installed a chair and large desk that could rise or lower at the press of a button. President Johnson used 26000 extensively on travels back and forth between Washington and his Texas ranch. He was also a world traveler and used the aircraft for his flights to Vietnam at the height of the war.
President Richard Nixon was in office less than a month when he made his first trip abroad on 26000 to Vietnam. Shortly after he took office, however, 26000 went back to the Boeing factory for its first major overhaul. The aircraft was stripped to its metal shell from cockpit to tail. While engineers tested the aircraft's structure and systems, the interior layout was redesigned. The private quarters of the president were moved to the area forward of the wings, the most quiet and stable area of the aircraft. A staff compartment was built in the rear of 26000. One feature of 26000, which did not carry over into the Nixon Administration, was the taping system on board. By orders of the president, the system that recorded all incoming and outgoing calls on 26000 was removed.
In July 1969 President Nixon flew aboard 26000 on a 13-day trip to six countries, culminating in a stop to meet the Apollo 11 crew in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Beginning in 1970 National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger used 26000 to take the first of 13 secret meetings with officials from North Vietnam. Flying these secret missions was a major undertaking. They were even kept secret from the secretary of defense, secretary of state and director of central intelligence. In 1971 Nixon gave 26000 an official name, "The Spirit of '76," in honor of the coming bicentennial. A year later the name was transferred to the new presidential aircraft, No. 27000, but most continued to refer to it as Air Force One. In February 1972, 26000 flew President Nixon on his historic "journey for peace" to China, the first step in normalizing relations with the world's most populous country.
In December 1972 SAM 26000 assigned the role of backup presidential aircraft. The aircraft that replaced her as the primary presidential plane, No. 27000, was another Boeing 707. Though they were similar aircraft, the Nixon family preferred the interior layout of the older plane, and traveled aboard her whenever the family flew together. 26000 served in the presidential fleet through four other presidents and even had a role in transition to the VC-25As (Boeing 747s) the president flies today. When state-of-the-art communications systems for the new aircraft were being developed, they were first tested on 26000. In 1981, 26000 carried former presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter to the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In 1983 she carried Queen Elizabeth II on a visit to the West Coast of the United States.
No. 26000 left the primary presidential fleet in 1990, but in the years hence continued to make history serving America's leaders. Vice presidents, secretaries of state and defense, and congressional delegations have used 26000 extensively. In January 1991 when Secretary of State James Baker flew abroad for talks with Iraqi leaders that would determine whether there would be war or peace, it was aboard 26000. Whenever the VC-25As were at Boeing for scheduled maintenance or heavy inspections, 26000 reassumed its role as presidential backup.
Whether serving presidents, vice presidents, cabinet members, Congressional delegations, or foreign heads of state, 26000 has served all with the same pride and dependability for 36 years. 26000 took into retirement a rich, honorable record of protecting America's interests in both good times and bad.
Primary function: Transport high-priority personnel and backup presidential airlift
Builder: Boeing Co.
Power plant: Four Pratt & Whitney JT3D-3B turbofan engines
Thrust: 18,000 pounds (8,100 kilograms) each engine
Length: VC-137B: 144 ft. 6 in. (48.79 meters); VC-137C: 152 ft. 11 in. (46.33 meters)
Height: VC-137B: 41 ft. 4 in. (12.52 meters); VC-137C: 42 ft. 5 in. (12.91 meters)
Maximum takeoff weight: VC-137B: 258,000 lbs. (116,100 kg); VC-137C: 322,000 lbs. (144,900 kg)
Wingspan: VC-137B: 130 ft. 10 in. (39.66 meters); VC-137C: 145 ft. 9 in. (44.17 meters)
Range: VC-137B: 5,000 miles (8,000 km); VC-137C: 6,000 miles (9,600 km)
Ceiling: 42,000 ft. (12,727 meters)
Speed: 530 mph (Mach 0.81)
Load: VC-137B: 40 passengers; VC-137C: 50 passengers
Unit cost: VC-137B: $36.6 million; VC-137C: $36.2 million
Crew: 18 (varies with mission)
Date deployed: VC-137B: October 1962; VC-137C: August 1972
Inventory: Active force: VC-137B: 3 and VC-137C: 4; ANG: 0; Reserve: 0
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