The archetypal Official Presidential Transport, "Air Force One" is actually the call-sign given to any US Air Force aircraft that the President of the United States currently happens to be onboard. This could range from anything from a T-38 Talon trainer jet (the President would be the back-seater... we hope) to an interstellar battle cruiser. If the Commander-in-Chief is on a civilian flight (which has happened once: Nixon, while President, rode on an ordinary United Air Lines flight to demonstrate confidence in the airline industry), it's "Executive One". "Marine One" for a Marine aircraft, "Navy One" for a naval aircraft (George W. Bush flew in a S-3B Viking to make his infamous 'Mission Accomplished' speech on USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003), etc. "Marine One" is also the name given to the President's helicopter — we'll discuss that here. The Vice-President has "Air Force Two" and "Marine Two," "Navy Two," and "Executive Two" (used relatively often during the presidency of Gerald Ford; his Veep Nelson Rockefeller was, well, a Rockefeller and had his own private jet which he preferred to use).
The origin of the call-sign "Air Force One" stemmed from a near-disaster. Prior to the Eisenhower presidency, the presidential plane's call-sign was number based. However, during one flight, the call-sign number happened to be identical to a nearby commercial flight's number, leading to much confusion and near mid-air collision. After the incident, the call-sign "Air Force One" was created to be unique to presidential flights.
In practice, however, since 1990 Air Force One has been one of two VC-25A aircraft operated by the 1st Airlift Squadron, 89th Airlift Wing. The VC-25A is a heavily modified military version of the Boeing 747-200B, and the current two planes have tail numbers 28000 or 29000. During transport missions where the President or Vice President is not on board, these aircraft use the callsigns "SAM 28000" and "SAM 29000" (short for Special Air Mission). When President Nixon flew back to California after announcing his resignation, the plane was known as "Air Force One," until Gerald Ford was sworn in at noon, then the pilot called air traffic control and said, "Air Force One changing call signs. Air Force One is now SAM 27000 (the callsign of one of the two VC-137C aircraft that preceded the current pair of 747s)."
When the aircraft is not carrying passengers (usually for pilot training) it uses the 89th Air Wing call sign "Venus" followed by a flight number. Besides the highly recognizable VC-25As, the President has access to slightly smaller aircraft — at least four C-40Bs (modified Boeing 737, entered service in 2002) and at least four C-32s (modified Boeing 757, entered service in 1998). These normally serve as transport for the Vice President (under the callsign "Air Force Two"), but the President will use them when the VC-25A is not practical — e.g., for shorter trips, or when the destination airport can't handle such a large aircraft. With the price of fuel skyrocketing in the 2010s, the C-32s have become more common as Air Force One; the C-32 despite certain hardware deficiencies, is much less expensive to operate per-hour than the 747-based VC-25A. Additionally, there is talk of replacing the VC-25A with a derivative of the newer Boeing 747-8, although plans for when and how are not final.
Before that, Air Force One was a Boeing 707; one of these is on display in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, one is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio and another is at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The VC-25A features medical facilities, a pharmacy and 85 telephones. The President can launch Superior Firepower from here. It has the capacity for 76 passengers and their cargo, but several other aircraft are needed for everyone else that goes with a President on his or her travels.
Precise defensive capabilities are classified, but there are almost certainly flares, a vast array of jamming equipment, and the aircraft can survive the EMP of a nuclear explosion.
There are several different ones of these. Most commonly seen are the VH-3A, a version of the Navy's Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, and the VH-60N, modified from the UH-60 Blackhawk airframe. The plan was to replace these with VH-71 Kestrel choppers (AgustaWestland AW101s, aka the Merlin, as used by the Brits with Battleships), but this plan is currently canceled due to cost over-runs. In addition to the huge cost, politics was involved, as it did not look good to spend such a massive amount of money during a recession. Even with the massive cost over-runs, it appears it will actually cost more to keep the current fleet, due to the costs of maintaining and upgrading the aging fleet.
Since the 1980s or '90s, Marine One never flies alone when the President is on board. Three or more identical helicopters play a Shell Game to prevent any assassin from knowing which one has the President on board. This is part of the reason why the planned replacement was so expensive — the plan called for 28 new helicopters.
Several will be transported with the President when he or she goes abroad.
The pilots all have to have Yankee White background checks (the same one required to carry the "nuclear football", which is thought to contain the information needed for the President to launch Superior Firepower and the means to do it — but not the actual codes to allow him or her to do so).
Air Force One Half
A bit of a historical curiosity, this Lockheed VC-140B JetStar was given its tongue-in-cheek nickname (like all Air Force jets, it was officially "Air Force One" when carrying POTUS) by Lyndon B. Johnson, who would use one to travel back and forth between San Antonio and his "Texas White House" in Fredericksburg, Texasnote . LBJ spent enough of his time in office working out of his Texas residencenote that the aircraft became a regular fixture there, and is currently on display there today.
Other Presidential Aircraft
There has been only one instance of a "Navy One"; this was the callsign used for an S-3 Viking used to transport George W. Bush to his "Mission Accomplished" speech in 2003. An Army aircraft carrying the President goes by the callsign "Army One". The Army was formerly responsible for operating the President's helicopter, a job that has since been passed to the Marine Corps. The only military branch (aside from the newly-formed Space Force) that has never transported the President in one of its aircraft is the Coast Guard. While there has never been a "Coast Guard One", the callsign "Coast Guard Two" was used in 2009 for an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter carrying Vice-President Joe Biden.
The Regular Plane and Chopper in Fiction Anime and Manga
- In High School Of The Dead, the President is evacuated to Air Force One, but one of the passengers or crew is infected, causing the plane to crash.
- News footage earlier states that the White House was evacuated, showing Marine One just taking off shortly as the infected breach the gates.
- Air Force One of course. The finale includes a bit where after the President is rescued from the titular plane and taken onto another aircraft, that aircraft changes its callsign to Air Force One.
- In Superman: The Movie, one of Air Force One's engines gets struck by lightning and is saved by crashing by Superman.
- Independence Day, which features the President in both his usual plane and a fighter jet.
- Notably, the fighter jet is never referred to as "Air Force One" (although technically as an F/A-18 Hornet, it would be Navy or Marine One, but in the film the military is in such dire straits that a plane is a plane and a pilot is a pilot), using a standard squadron number ("Eagle One") instead. Makes a certain amount of sense both practically (it doesn't matter who the pilot is nearly as much as who's supposed to be flying with it) and symbolically (highlighting how the President is putting himself on the front line the same as his people). It also helps that President Whitmore is conveniently a Desert Storm veteran fighter pilot.
- The President is taken away from the White House by a helicopter, presumably Marine One.
- In Escape from New York, it is hijacked and the President ejects in the Escape Pod to land in Manhattan.
- In the sequel, it's Air Force Three that the President's daughter hijacked.
- The main characters in My Fellow Americans take a brief helicopter ride and refer to the craft as "Marine One".
- It makes a brief appearance in the first Transformers movie, when the Decepticon Frenzy sneaks aboard and breaks into the computers.
- Both the plane and chopper are used in Chasing Liberty.
- The movie version The Sum of All Fears shows the President boarding the E-4B, aka the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), following the nuclear detonation in Baltimore.
- The movie Big Game has Air Force One and its escort shot down by shoulder launched SAMs. The President escapes in an escape pod. The unlikeliness of such as assault defeating the countermeasures on Air Force One is mentioned, and answered with "That's the job of the man on the inside."
- In Black Sunday, POTUS arrives for the Super Bowl in what is presumably "Coast Guard One".
- The Vice President and several officials are evacuated to Air Force One in White House Down. Assuming the President to be dead, the Vice President is takes his oath of office aboard the plane. The plane is then shot-down by a Minuteman missile over Ohio, killing everyone on board.
- Air Force One and Marine One both appear in London Has Fallen. However, Marine One gets more role compared to Air Force One.
- Mentioned in passing in Love Actually. During the President's visit to Downing Street the Prime Minister semi-jokingly admits that he's "very jealous of your plane".
- H.I.V.E.: Dreadnought shows the plane captured, it is then released to plummet to the sea with the president aboard.
- The denouement of the Alex Rider novel Eagle Strike is set there, as the Big Bad hijacks it with the intent of launching a nuclear attack. Going on board the plane is one of two places author Anthony Horowitz has been unable to actually go in the name of research (the other being outer space), so he had to reconstruct it using films and TV series. (He purportedly did approach the White House to ask if he could be let on board, but was rebuffed after a poorly phrased request saying he intended to "blow it up" — the villain's plan is foiled when the plane crashes.)
- The Dale Brown novel Storming Heaven Features a terrorist disguising a Boeing 747-200 as Air Force One, with the aim of crashing it into the Capitol Building. It's prevented from doing so by a Heroic Sacrifice, where an F-16 pilot rams the aircraft, although considerable damage is still caused to Washington, D.C..
- In Just Compensation, a Shadowrun novel, the military-man protagonist is contacted by Air Force One in the middle of a crisis in Washington D.C., indicating that the UCAS still uses the same designation for presidential aircraft as the U.S. did.
- Obviously featured in the Robert J. Serling novel (and subsequent TV movie) The President's Plane Is Missing.
- In Animorphs Visser Three hijacks the President while he's on Marine One... in mid-air. While the Animorphs have all heard of Air Force One, only Tobias knew about Marine One.
- In a case of Just Plane Wrong, Rayford Steele in Left Behind complains about being turned down as the pilot for Air Force One even though he's a commercial pilot and Air Force One is a military plane operated by the USAF. It is also treated as the name of a specific plane instead of being a general designation.
- The obvious inspiration for "Haven One" in the Honorverse, the specific call-sign of whichever aircraft (or, more usually, spacecraft) is carrying the President of the Republic of Haven. Debate continues to rage among fans as to whether "Haven One" is also a purpose-built spacecraft (or several thereof), or merely a call-sign.
- In Black Sunday, POTUS arrives for the Super Bowl in what is presumably "Coast Guard One".
- In Warday, the President is rushed to the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (as the E-4B was then called) plane, which would presumably become "Air Force One". The aircraft is severely damaged in the EMP strike and POTUS launches the Minuteman strike shortly before the aircraft has to make an emergency crash-landing; he dies of a broken neck in this.
Live Action Television
- The West Wing uses Air Force One as a setting in several episodes when the President is traveling around America or to a foreign country (such as his second campaign or the trip to China). The only episode where something goes wrong is played with comedy with a touch of Locked in a Room as the plane is forced to remain airborne for hours because a landing gear light came on.
- Mr Terrific (from the 1967 sitcom, not the DC character) was once sent to use his superstrength to deploy a stuck landing gear on Air Force One.
- 24: it's shot down in Season 4, by an F-117A Nighthawk.
- At the end of Season 5, Jack Bauer hijacks Marine One with President Logan onboard.
- Air Force Two appears in Season 6, with the Vice President in the air for safety. When the President is incapacitated, he lands to take control on the ground.
- NCIS, "Yankee White". In this one, it is explicitly stated that the aircraft is only referred to as Air Force One when the President is on board. Otherwise, it has some other designation. And then Agent Gibbs and his team steal the plane after the president has disembarked because it has evidence of a recent assassination attempt.
- Another episode "Reveille" involves Ari Haswari (yes, that one) planning to shoot down Marine One with George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon on board.
- Stargate SG-1 features an alternate reality where the Stargate program has been revealed to the world. In this reality, the President uses Prometheus, Earth's first interstellar battleship, as Air Force One.
- The airplane is shot down by the Goa'uld in the alternate timeline in the episode "There But For the Grace of God".
- Madam Secretary's season two premiere is touched off by a cyberattack that shuts down all communications systems on Air Force One, which due to what Liz once termed a "universal fiasco",note forces her to become acting president for the day. The same hacker later tries to assassinate the President of Ukraine by crashing his plane, but he's able to parachute to safety. It later turns out that the Ukrainians were responsible for both hacks and their President had arranged to fill his plane with trained parachutists
- In Metal Wolf Chaos, the first level has you trying to reach Air Force One... which then takes off from the Washington Monument reflection pool.
- Perfect Dark has a mission set aboard Air Force One. Like the movie, it has an escape pod that the real one doesn't.
- H.A.W.X. has the player defending Air Force One after the rogue PMC Artemis attacks Washington D.C.