There's a new Air Force One on the way, and it's about time. The beat-up pair of modified 747s that have been hauling the world's most powerful passenger for 25 years are reaching the end of their useful lifespans, and are set to be replaced.
The presidential planes are renowned for the tech specs of their interior cabins, which allow a globe-trotting commander-in-chief to run the country, and even manage a war, virtually the same way he would in the White House. But their fuselages are hardly state-of-the-art.
The Air Force announced this week that it had picked the next model for its flying fortress: a Boeing 747-8 with a tail the height of a six-story building and which, according to the company's "fun facts," can carry more than $5 billion in solid gold bars from Fort Knox. (Heaven forbid the need arises...) It'll be the first complete upgrade for Air Force One since the current planes arrived in 1990 and 1991.
"I’m surprised they haven’t replaced it before now," said John Haigh Sr., a former chief steward of Air Force One who was aboard the plane that now shuttles President Obama when it first carried President George H. W. Bush in 1990. As many trivia buffs know, Air Force One is a military call number given to any aircraft carrying the sitting commander-in-chief. There are actually two identical presidential planes, and when the president takes an overnight trip, the back-up aircraft is always within a 30-minute trip away "in case there's a problem with the primary airplane," Haigh said.
The new planes won't be ready until after Obama leaves office, and an Air Force spokesman said Friday the military expects that at least one of the two current models will still be in use in 2025, when it would carry the 46th or 47th president. That would be well past the end of its officially-projected 30-year lifespan, which only extends through 2017. With inspections before every trip, Air Force One is probably the best-maintained plane on earth, but even the military acknowledges the fleet is suffering from obsolete parts and "increased down times for maintenance" that will only get worse in the coming years.