The West Wing & Five Fun Facts About Air Force One

What does it take to keep Air Force One flying? The Aerospace Industry Association’s President and CEO, Eric Fanning, helps separate fact from fiction on America’s most important aircraft in The West Wing Weekly podcast, hosted by the actor Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder.

The podcast looks back at “Angel Maintenance” from Season 4 of The West Wing, when a mechanical issue with Air Force One places the lives of the president, his staff, and the reporters on board in danger. Fanning, the former Acting and Under Secretary of the Air Force, taps into his knowledge of Air Force One and presidential travel.

Learn more below, or listen to the full episode of The West Wing Weekly, click here.

Did you know?

There is more than one Air Force One aircraft
The U.S. Air Force owns and operates two Boeing 747-200 aircraft that have become icons of presidential travel. While they are likely the best maintained planes in the world, they have been in service since 1990 and thus are scheduled to be replaced by newer, larger versions within the next decade.

Above: One of the two VC-25 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jason P. Robertson)

Even more: There are planes other than the 747s that the President uses, all of which could be designated “Air Force One.”

“Air Force One” is not the plane itself, but merely a callsign.
Any Air Force aircraft transporting the President becomes “Air Force One.” Additionally, this also applies to “Marine One,” which is any Marine helicopter transporting the President.

Above: A Marine One helicopter flies the President into the heart of Washington D.C. from an unspecified location. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Photographers Mate Second Class Daniel J. McLain)

BONUS TRIVIA:  While the Air Force is responsible for presidential airplane travel and the Marine Corps takes care of trips via helicopter, the Army is charged with providing presidential ground transportation.  So where does the Navy fit in? They take care of presidential meals, and as a result, operate the Navy Mess, located in the basement of the real West Wing.

Air Force One is not your average airliner
The presidential plane is outfitted with critical communications systems, security countermeasures, and mid-air refueling to keep the President connected and safe.

(Graphic by Roy Cooper)

FDR was the first sitting US President to fly in an airplane while in office.
In 1933, the U.S. Navy purchased the first aircraft for the President’s personal use, a Douglas Dolphin seaplane which was based at then-Anacostia Naval Air Station.

Above: A Douglas Dolphin in Coast Guard service.

However, the first plane to be used for official travel would become a modified C-54 Skymaster known as “Sacred Crow”, which is now on display at the National Museum of the Air Force.

Above: Douglas VC-54C “Sacred Cow” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Columbus, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo)

There was once a “Navy One”
When he landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush designated his naval transport aircraft, a Lockheed S-3 Viking, “Navy One”.

Above: President George W. Bush lands aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Gabriel Piper.)