Top Secret Air Force One Facts That You Probably Never Knew

Entertainment | By Harriet King | September 21, 2019

Air Force one might just be the most famous plane in the entire world. It's the United States of America's ambassador in the sky, conveying the President from country to country when diplomatic duties call. The distinctive white and blue jet is always an awesome sight wherever it touches down.

As you can probably imagine, it's about as secure and safe as it's possible for a plane to be. You can't take any chances when you're transporting the leader of the free world through the air, and so it's packed full of features to ensure the President is well protected.

There are plenty of things about Air Force One that aren't well known, though. It's not just well defended; it's the ultimate in luxury. When the President flies, he does so in comfort and style. Check out our list of Air Force One's hidden secrets, and prepare to be shocked!

1. There's Plenty Of Kitchen Space

Flying overseas takes hours. Depending on where you're going, it might even take you the best part of a whole day. At some point while you're in the air, you're bound to get hungry. That's not a concern on Air Force One.

While most planes have one small kitchen, Air Force One has two huge ones. There's space for up to 100 people to work in each kitchen. If you invite the right chef along, there's no reason you can't enjoy Michelin-star quality dining on this plane!

2. It Can Tend To The Sick

The idea of getting ill onboard a regular plane isn't appealing. There might not be a doctor on board, and even if there is, there isn't usually anywhere you can go for treatment. The builders of Air Force One have thought about this problem, and provided for it.

The plane has a mini-hospital on board. It includes all the tools that would be required for emergency surgery. It even has a supply of the President's blood type should it ever be required.

3. It's Very Roomy

Most of us know the misery of being cramped up on a passenger flight, unable to stretch our legs. If the person in front of you reclines their chair, you're crammed into a tiny space. Nobody on Air Force One has to worry about that.

The President's plane is split over three decks. Within those three decks is 4,000 square feet of space. Stretching your legs is easy - you could even go for a jog if the mood took you!

4. It's A Communications Hub

The President and his staff have to be kept well informed of everything that's going on all day, every day. They don't want to be caught by surprise by landing and finding out something has happened while they were in the air.

To avert that risk, Air Force One is kitted out with eight-five phones, one of which the ultra-secure Airborne Security Phone. There are also 20 full-sized TVs. We wonder which channels it receives? Does it depend on which country you're flying over?

5. It's Always Watching You

Crowds always gather to watch Air Force One touching down. What they don't realize is that the plane is watching them just as much as they're watching it. There are cameras inside the wells which the wheels fit into.

Putting cameras on the underside of the plane was the idea of President Eisenhower back in 1959, and they've been fitted to every model of the plane since. They can identify vehicle registration plates, and check them against security lists to ensure they're not a threat.

6. It Has A Top-Secret Partner

If Air Force One is flying over potentially dangerous territory, it's accompanied by a mysterious jet known only as 'the doomsday plane,' which follows at a safe distance. It's a stealthy 747 which looks out for incoming threats, or unforeseen circumstances like a meteor strike.

The plane has been engineered to remain in the sky for days if it has to, and can also outrun a nuclear explosion. If the ground isn't safe to land on, it will keep the President in the sky.

7. It Climbs High And Moves Fast

Obviously, all planes climb high and move fast. Air Force One has significantly more power than your average plane, though. When it's flat out, it moves at 600 miles per hour. That's pretty close to supersonic speed.

It's also comfortable flying at 45,000 feet, which ensures it has clear skies to fly through. The majority of passenger planes never go higher than 30,000 feet. Air Force One isn't going to collide with anything up there - it's almost in a world of its own.

8. It Can Be Refueled In The Air

For security and convenience reasons, Air Force One can be refueled in the sky by other planes. If there's a reason why it isn't safe to land on the ground, the US can't afford to take the chance of the President's plane running out of fuel and being forced into an emergency landing.

The tank capacity of this impressive plane is fifty-three thousand gallons. Once it's been filled up, it can stay in the sky and wait for the danger to pass, or turn around and go home.

9. The Plane Has A Secret Twin

Why have one Air Force One when you could have two? The plane technically isn't even called 'Air Force One' - that's just its call sign when it's flying. The call sign can apply to one of two almost-identical jets that the President uses.

It would be embarrassing if the plane broke down and the President had to make alternative arrangements, so there are always a minimum of two planes in service which can perform 'Air Force One' duties whenever required.

10. It Can Withstand Attacks

You've probably heard the phrase 'flying fortress' before - and it's an accurate description of Air Force One. This plane was built for resilience. The body is so strong that it could shake off a nuclear explosion happening beneath it.

Every window on the plane is reinforced and bulletproof, and if missiles are launched at it, it can eject flares which act as decoys and confuse the missiles. There are also several emergency retractable staircases if people need to get off in a hurry.

11. It's Always At Peak Performance

The USA simply cannot afford to take the risk of the plane suddenly failing or developing mechanical issues in-flight. For that reason, it's probably the best-maintained plane in the world. A specialist team ensures that it's always in immaculate condition.

When it's not on duty, the plane (and its twin) are under armed guard at the Andrews Air Force Base. You can't even get close to it without top security clearance. Even the fuel has to be handled by special agents!

12. The Press Are Welcome

Whoever occupies the highest office in the USA is bound to argue with the press at some point during their time in power. That doesn't stop them making the media very comfortable when they accompany him on tour, though.

Every time Air Force One flies, thirteen officially-approved members of the press are invited to fly with the President. They can enjoy all the luxuries and amenities onboard - but anything they report about their flight has to be approved by the White House.

13. There Have Been Many Different Air Force One Planes

The first time the President got their own plane was during the Second World War, when President Roosevelt ordered the creation of the Presidential Pilot Office in 1944.

The first Air Force One wasn't very impressive; it was a standard, propeller-driven plane which lasted for fifteen years. Eisenhower upgraded to a Boeing 707 in 1959, and John F. Kennedy was the first to have his own specially-designed plane built for him a few years later. Even that was really just a modified 707.

14. The Fuel Is Heavily Guarded

If you were going to try to sabotage Air Force One, the fuel would be an obvious target to go for. You've got no chance of doing so, though - it's fiercely guarded by the full might of the US military.

Any gas or fuel destined for use on the President's plane is stored separately from its supply, tested, locked into a tanker, and then tested again before it's loaded onto the plane. Nobody takes any chances with it.

15. Not Your Average Cabin Crew

A successful career aboard commercial planes won't get you a job working in Air Force One. It doesn't matter if you're the best flight attendant in the world; the job isn't open to your industry!

Everybody who serves on Air Force One is drawn from the US Air Force. Because of their military service history, they're subject to extensive screening, and so the qualify for special security clearance. You don't get near the President unless you can be trusted.

16. Military Precision

We're fortunate enough to live in a time when - broadly speaking - the United States of America is not at war with anybody. That means the bulk of the plane's duties are diplomatic missions. Usually, when the President flies, he's on his way to meet a friendly nation.

Even in times of peace, though, any Air Force One flight is considered to be a military operation. The Air Force handle the planning of the flight both in the sky and on the ground.

17. There Will Soon Be A New Air Force One

For all the technology and provisions on the current pair of Air Force One planes, they're getting a little old. They were commissioned in 1990, back when George Bush Snr was the sitting President.

Five years from now, their long and distinguished service will be over. Boeing will furnish the USA with another pair of high-tech airliners, costing nearly four billion dollars, and ready for duty by 2024. For security reasons, the current planes will then be dismantled and scrapped.

18. The Public Pays For The Flights

We've already discussed the fact that the flights of Air Force One are conducted by the military. All the funding for the United States military comes from the public purse. That means taxpayers are covering the costs of the flights.

As a minimum, each time Air Force One takes to the sky, the American taxpayer takes a $200,000 hit. Nobody ever said that diplomacy came cheaply - and neither does jet plane fuel or the salaries of great military minds!

19. It Has Incredible Range

Remember we said that Air Force One could deal with a fuel load of 53,000 gallons? That's a huge amount - far more than you'll find on a commercial airliner. With all that fuel, you get a lot of range.

If Air Force One takes off from Washington with a full tank of fuel, it can make it all the way to Tokyo in Japan without having to stop off for refueling on the way. That's a massive 6,700 miles through the air.

20. The Vice President Gets Their Own Plane

The President and the Vice President don't always have to be best friends, but most of us assume they get on pretty well. Because of that, if they both have to travel to the same destination abroad, you might assume they fly together.

They don't. You'll find the Vice President on Air Force Two. They're separated for strategic reasons; should Air Force One go down, the Presidential line of succession is preserved on the second plane. Better safe than sorry.

21. It Lands Where It Wants

Have you ever had your time onboard a plane extended because your flight is circling an airport, waiting for a terminal to become clear so it can land? It's enormously annoying when that happens - and it's an annoyance the President doesn't have to deal with.

Air Force One has primary clearance wherever it goes. That means it can just land on the tarmac without approaching a terminal. It also means anything else in the air has to wait until the President has disembarked before they can approach!

22. The First President In The Sky

The first recorded instance a President of the United States taking to the skies happened on January 14th, 1943 - and we have a picture of the occasion! Here's Franklin D. Roosevelt looking happy to be on board The Dixie Clipper - a Boeing 314.

Roosevelt was on his way to meet British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to discuss war strategy in Casablanca. On the way to Morocco, the plane touched down in Brazil and Gambia to pick up fuel and supplies.

23. A Jet-Powered President

Boeing has been providing planes for US Presidents for decades now, as we already know. The tradition was started by President Eisenhower back in 1959, when he became the first President to climb aboard a jet plane.

Eisenhower's plane was a Boeing 707 Stratoliner. He must have really enjoyed the experience, because since then, every subsequent President of the United States has been loyal to Boeing. As the company is already working on the next version of Air Force One, the relationship will continue into the future.

24. The Plane Has Been Used To Transport Beer

Being President is a difficult job, so the holder of the office is entitled to an occasional beer if it helps them to unwind. President Gerald Ford's favorite tipple was Coors - but during his time in the White House, it wasn't yet available nationwide.

As Coors was only available in 11 states, Ford would have the plane stocked with the beverage whenever it landed in those states. Air Force One then ferried the beer to the White House - so you could say it was used for bootlegging!

25. Air Force Two Is Dry

President Ford might have started a tradition of having beer on board Air Force One, but it seems that alcohol privileges don't extend to the Vice President on Air Force Two. They have to make do with soft drinks, tea, and coffee.

Although President Trump doesn't drink, it's understood that wines, whiskeys, and bourbon remain available on Air Force One. Air Force Two is still believed to be alcohol-free. No wonder the press prefer the President's plane - it's easier to relax!

26. Air Force One Has Been A Candy Store

Each President has their own preferences when it comes to snacks and treats. President Ford may have loved beer, but President Reagan had a much sweeter tooth - and one which he liked to indulge when he was flying.

During the Reagan administration, Air Force One had to have a stockpile of jelly beans on it at all times. They were the President's favorite candy, and he would be annoyed if he had to go through a flight without them.

27. Kitchen Requests Can Become Unusual

The contents of Air Force One's kitchen are a reflection of the President's tastes. That meant jelly beans for Reagan. We don't know what President George Bush Snr's preferred snack was, but we do know what he didn't like.

Bush Snr despised broccoli. It wasn't enough to simply serve him meals that didn't contain the vegetable; Bush prohibited the presence of broccoli anywhere on the plane when he was on board. Even the sight of it was said to irritate him!

28. Kennedy Turned It Blue

Air Force One has had blue livery for as long as most of us can remember - but that hasn't always been the case. The tradition began with President Kennedy. His wife Jackie decided the plane needed a new look, and it was she who requested the distinctive white and blue shades.

Mrs. Kennedy's eye for design also extended to the plane's interior; she had the entire jet refit and refurnished according to her preferred schematics. It's understood that her designs made things a lot more comfortable inside.

29. It's An Electrician's Nightmare

If you were an electrician, you'd probably consider it quite an honor to be asked to work on Air Force One. That sense of pride would quickly disappear when you saw the scale of the task in front of you.

All those phone lines on the plane - along with all the other electrical devices - need a lot of wiring. If you laid the wires inside the plane out end-to-end, they would cover 240 miles. Imagine trying to pin down a single fault among all that!

30. It Can Put Up A Fight

Attacking Air Force One is probably the dream of many of America's enemies. It would also be a significant mistake. This is a plane that's more than capable of holding its own when under attack.

We've already covered the flares under the wings, which can scramble the senses of heat-seeking missiles when launched. Air Force One is also equipped with high-tech electronic radar jamming equipment, which would confuse enemies even further. Radioactive fallout from a nuclear attack can't even get through the hull.

31. The Press Pen Is Comfortable

Earlier on, we discussed the fact that whenever the President flies, 13 hand-picked journalists from various media organizations also fly with him. For security reasons, though, they can't be permitted full access to the plane.

While the press might be confined to a specific area, they're made very comfortable while they're there. They're free to roam around one third of the plane's space, and have luxurious lounging facilities. There are worse places to be stuck, and you get a great view while you're writing!

32. The President's Car Also Flies

When attending official events, the President travels by limousine. You might think one limousine is like another, but that's not the case when it comes to the President. Like Air Force One, the Presidential limousine is built specifically to serve the purpose it was designed for.

That means every time you see the President in a limousine - even when he's thousands of miles away - it's the same limousine. It goes wherever he goes, landing ahead of Air Force One on a C-141 Starlifter.

33. Kennedy Had The First Air Force One

We've already seen that Presidents of the past flew on different planes. The first time the Presidential plane was referred to as Air Force One was during the Kennedy administration. Previous Presidents simply named their planes themselves.

Roosevelt, for reasons best known to himself, called his Douglas VC-54 C plane 'The Sacred Cow,' and had a special elevator fitted to it for his wheelchair. President Truman called his Douglas-built aircraft 'Independence,' after the Missouri town he grew up in.

34. There's A Trade Entrance

How often have you seen a picture of a US President and his wife, standing at the entrance of Air Force One and waving? That's actually the special entrance to the plane. Only the President, his family, and VIPs get to board the plane that way.

For everybody else, there's a separate entrance at the back. The idea is that all the top-secret facilities are in the front half of the plane, and so only the VIPs get to see them.

35. A Second Oval Office

The Oval Office is the most famous room in all of American politics - and perhaps global politics too. It seems like a unique location, but it's actually replicated on Air Force One.

Since the September 11th attacks, the Presidential office on board Air Force One has been upgraded to include all the same facilities that the President enjoys in his White House office. It even has roughly the same oval shape! The President could broadcast to the nation from here if required.

36. A Suite For Presidential Naps

The President can't be expected to be in his flying Oval Office all the time. He's human, and sometimes he has to sleep. For overnight flights, there's a special Presidential suite for catching some much-needed shut-eye.

The pleasant, homely design of the private Presidential quarters was designed by Nancy Reagan, which explains the slightly southwestern feel. There's also a convenient ensuite bathroom for when nature calls. It's not five-star accommodation, but it's perfectly serviceable. We love the Presidential duvet set. Is there a matching teddy bear?

37. There's A Luxury Boardroom

You never know when an emergency meeting might need to take place. If you're going to have an emergency meeting, you need a suitably well-catered meeting room for it to happen in. This is what you'll find on Air Force One.

It looks like a miniature version of the kind of boardroom you'd find at any high-end Wall Street company, right down to the very comfortable-looking leather chairs. Meetings between the President and foreign dignitaries sometimes happen here, too.

38. The Fine Dining Experience

You already know that there are excellent kitchen facilities onboard Air Force One, but what type of menu might they provide for you? As you can see from this picture, it's a good-looking one!

Even with the two kitchens on board the plane, meals are actually prepared at Base Andrews, and then frozen at source before being vacuum-packed and moved to the plane. All the chefs on board have to do is make them piping hot again without compromising the flavors.

39. It's A Little Bit Noisy

For all the wonderful things you can say about Air Force One, it will never be described as 'stealthy.' Whenever it takes off and lands, everybody nearby knows about it. Planes this size make a lot of noise.

The noise actually became an issue during the Clinton years. The Clintons liked to fly to White Plains, New York, for easy access to their private home. That usually involved landing at an airfield, but when it touched down at Westchester County Airport in 2000, it attracted several noise complaints.

40. The VIP Experience

If you've ever wondered what VIP passengers on Air Force One get to see, this picture provides the answer. This is a typical VIP suite on the plane, and it's very well furnished.

The basic rule on the plane is you can walk back a far as you like, but you can't walk forward past your own seat. That makes it easier to organize security. The President might walk back to chat with you, though - as we can see here!

41. You Can Get On Board Yourself

You can't climb on board the current Air Force One unless you're very lucky, but you can explore an older model if you wish. You'll find a retired Air Force One plane at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at Simi Valley, California.

Usually, when an Air Force One plane is retired, the plane is broken down and scrapped to protect the secrets of the technology onboard. That makes the public display unusual - but we suspect anything valuable or revealing has been carefully stripped away.

42. The Old Look

We know that the current standard look of the Air Force One planes has been blue and white ever since Jackie Kennedy decided the vehicle could use a facelift. There was no standard look prior to that - but this is what Eisenhower was flying around in.

There's nothing particularly offensive about the red and black color scheme - it just isn't all that attractive either. At the time, this was the default livery of all major American military planes.

43. Expensive Cooling Systems

There must be something top secret going on with the refrigerators on Air Force One, because there's no way the refrigerators in our house could ever be this expensive! In January 2018, the refrigerators on board Air Force One needed replacing. The cost of installing the new, modern cooling equipment came in at $24m.

The public has been provided very little detail regarding why the work was so expensive, other than the fact that the refrigerators had to meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements. What are they keeping in there?

44. There's Also A Navy One

Air Force One is something of a statement plane. It's a giant vehicle, used to transport somebody of enormous importance. It's befitting of its role, but it isn't always practical. Sometimes, something smaller is required.

As an example, President George W. Bush had to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003. Air Force One would never have fit, so instead Bush flew on the little-known Navy One. It's a tiny Lockheed S-3 Viking which contains only four seats.

45. Standing Tall

We've talked a lot about the sheer size of Air Force One without giving you an idea of its precise dimensions. Allow us to share that information with you. When it's standing on the tarmac, Air Force one is an impressive 63 feet tall.

From wing to wing, Air Force One measures 195 feet across. Nose to tail, it measures 231 feet. This plane is simply a behemoth - which explains why it can carry a total load of 830,000 pounds.

46. The Full Crew Complement

So how many people does it take to get Air Force One off the ground, and ensure that the President and all his guests are well catered for? The answer is lots. In theory, Air Force One can fly with 102 crew if it needs to.

As a minimum, there will always be at least 26 members of crew on board. That includes the pilot and their co-pilot, the navigator, the flight engineer, the baggage handlers (the same people are used at both ends), and the flight attendants.

47. A Special Mission

When a President of the United States of America dies, their funeral is a large ceremonial event. According to tradition, the body of the President will undertake one final journey on Air Force One on the way to the President's final resting place.

The plane is only called 'Air Force One,' though, when the President is on board. As Donald Trump wasn't on board when President Bush Snr was taking his final flight, the plane was referred to as 'Special Mission 41.'

48. Strange Details

There are a few fun little quirks onboard Air Force One. The first of them is the clocks. In every section of the plane, there are three digital clocks. One shows the time in Washington. The second shows the local time at the plane's destination. The third shows the time in London, and nobody knows why.

If you find yourself needing a little nap when you go to the toilet, you can pull down a long, padded cover to make things more comfortable for yourself. That's a little odd!

49. A President Has Been Sworn In On The Plane

After the shocking assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, America had to move fast to get a new President into office. That President was Lyndon B. Johnson. There wasn't even time to get him to a suitable location for the ceremony, and so it happened on the plane.

The resulting picture is one of the most famous in American political history, and was taken on Air Force One on November 22nd, 1963. Jackie Kennedy is by the new President's side.

50. Complete Air Clearance

We told you that everybody else has to get out of the way when Air Force One lands at an airport. As it turns out, planes also have to get out of the way even when they're not particularly near the jet.

When Air Force One was flying to Westchester Airport in February 2000, Northwest Airlines Flight 496 received an emergency message to change course, and stay out of the way of the President's plane. At the time, Northwest Airlines Flight 496 was more than one hundred miles away!



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