Join 3,374 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


There was the world inside the plane and the world outside it
November 3, 2013 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Flying on Air Force One the day Kennedy died: "In the small aft cabin, behind the bedroom, Sergeant Ayres is removing two rows of seats to make room for a casket. ... Johnson then asks [Robert] Kennedy where he should take the oath of office and what its exact words are. The questions are met with silence before Kennedy replies that he will find out and call back. He hangs up." Esquire

The Washingtonian: "The blue-and-white Boeing 707 sat waiting to whisk the presidential party to Austin for the final stop on the multiday Kennedy-Johnson Texas tour. Colonel James Swindal, the presidential pilot, had taken on only a small fuel load—carefully tested for contaminants before being used—because it was just another 180 miles to the state capital. But Air Force One would never depart for Austin."

Air Force One, the call sign for any airplane carrying the President of the United States, has flown every president since Eisenhower (FDR was the first president to fly while in office; Teddy Roosevelt the first president to fly at all; but neither flew in a plane with the call sign Air Force One). This month, both Esquire and the Washingtonian feature longform articles about the flight back to DC from Dallas after the JFK assassination.

Kenneth Walsh wrote a book about Air Force One (WaPo interview). On 9/11, the Bush team feared the terrorists might try to ram Air Force One in the air (Daily Mail). Flying on Air Force One today. Wikipedia has a list of air transport used by heads of state and government. Flying with the Obamas in 2009. Floor Plan. Pictures (and schematics). Harrison Ford movie. White House info. How Stuff Works. Boeing. Marine One is a helicopter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (18 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I was a kid, I was really pleased to learn that Air Force One will always have made at least one more take-off than landing (why is left as an exercise to the reader). This fact has lost some of its luster, I think because there's no way to tell it to people without being completely obnoxious.

But not so much of its luster that I didn't just mention it slightly gratuitously. I would also be quite disappointed if the man at the Pima Air and Space Museum (I think) was wrong.
posted by hoyland at 6:40 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just last night I watched Secrets of the Secret Service (Netflix streaming) which was really interesting and had a part on Air Force One. Interesting factoids: On 9/11 Bush was in Air Force One and couldn't address the nation. They have since updated the technology so that a President can do so if need be. Also, 9/11 was the first day in its history that AF1 was accompanied by a fighter jet over domestic soil.

I'm looking forward to reading these, thanks.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:47 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, cool.

And super timely because I was in the Newseum in DC yesterday at the exhibit about the media coverage of the JFK assassination, and read a bunch of stuff about Air Force One *and* I'm plowing through the multiple books of the LBJ biography by Robert Cato, so this is super timely for me.
posted by gaspode at 6:49 PM on November 3, 2013


Air Force One will always have made at least one more take-off than landing (why is left as an exercise to the reader).

Ummm, if it was Air Force Two became Air Force One after Johnson took the oath of office on board, wouldn't AF1 have one more landing than take-off? What am I missing? Did a president parachute out?
posted by RedOrGreen at 6:50 PM on November 3, 2013


Johnson took the oath while the aircraft was on the ground, thus not affecting the takeoff/landing ratio.

Nixon resigned while airborne.
posted by Dimpy at 6:54 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


That floorplan didn't mention where the anti-missile defense systems are located.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:02 PM on November 3, 2013


Which intimidates other countries more: the fact that we spent two billion dollars on a fleet of luxuriously-equipped presidential jets, or the fact that we spent six billion dollars on a fleet of presidential helicopters that weren't quite good enough so we sold them for scrap?
posted by miyabo at 7:08 PM on November 3, 2013


I've always had some antipathy for Kennedy because I was born 11 years to the day after he left this life - as a little kid, hearing how terrible your birth date is really grates. But that Esquire piece...
"Mrs. Kennedy?"

"Yes. Yes—"

"Mrs. Ken—"

"—yes, yes, Mr. President. Yes—"

Dang, Rose Kennedy had *guts*.
posted by notsnot at 7:24 PM on November 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Air Force One, the call sign for any airplane carrying the President of the United States

Let's not forget about Navy One and Executive One, call signs that have actually been used for Navy and civil airplanes carrying the President (albeit only once each).

And, looking back a little further, the call sign Army One was in routine use up until the 1970s, for the helicopter carrying the President -- though that is admittedly not an airplane but merely an aircraft.

From the always excellent White House Museum unofficial web site: the unique system of Presidential aircraft call signs seem to stem from a 1953 incident where the President's airplane (then "Air Force 8610") was confused for another airplane ("Eastern 8610") in radio communications.
posted by Dimpy at 7:27 PM on November 3, 2013


That 707 - designated SAM 26000 - is now a part of the National Museum of the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. If you ever get the chance to go, do so. It's a fantastic museum and one day won't seem enough.

You can walk through the 707 since it's been preserved exactly as it was that day in Dallas. Two things I remember from seeing the inside:

1. Compared to modern-day jet airplanes, Air Force One was tiny. I still don't know how they were able to fit everyone into that compartment to administer the Oath in the famous photograph.

2. The empty hole they hacked out if the airplane to fit the casket is still there. It's chilling and eerie at the same time when you see it. All if a sudden, this man who I only saw in clips since I was born 12 years after he was killed, became a real person. You could totally see Jackie sitting there, refusing to leave and tending to the body inside the casket.
posted by zooropa at 7:34 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The empty hole they hacked out if the airplane to fit the casket is still there.

Huh? As stated in the article, and shown in the pictures, they took the handles off the casket and it fit through the regular doors on the plane. No holes cut at the time.
A VC-137C serial number 62-6000, SAM 26000 was a customized Boeing 707. It entered service in 1962 during the administration of John F. Kennedy and was replaced in Presidential service in 1972 but kept as a backup. The aircraft was finally retired in 1998 and is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
posted by mrbill at 7:38 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think he meant the seats that were removed to make space for the casket.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:40 PM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps they "restored" it to that condition (removing the seats) once it was retired to the museum.
posted by mrbill at 7:41 PM on November 3, 2013


The bronze casket was later dropped into the Atlantic, prompting many conspiracy theories.
posted by 445supermag at 7:47 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


JoeZydeco is correct. I meant the seats where the casket was laid. They had to cut into the wall a little as well. When you see the space, it really looks like a part of the aircraft was just chopped out. It's a gaping hole where "normal airplane" used to be.

Sorry for my earlier inarticulate explanation.
posted by zooropa at 7:49 PM on November 3, 2013


I've also been through SAM 26000 at the USAF museum. It does seem small inside, though the 707 has the exact same fuselage cross section as the 737 which pretty much everyone who has ever flown on an airliner is familiar with. There are plexiglass panels set up which make it pretty cramped.
posted by zsazsa at 8:52 PM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps they "restored" it to that condition (removing the seats) once it was retired to the museum.

In fact, it has been preserved in the condition as received in 1998. If there are modifications such as a hole in the interior finishings they probably represent the removal of e.g. classified communications equipment. They didn't even repaint it in presidential livery -- lost in the 1970s when it became the backup -- until 2010.

Its most recent usage as Air Force One was for Bill Clinton earlier in 1998, so this is one historically accurate approach, and a restoration to 1963 appearance might involve many kinds of reconstruction that might be well-founded or might be conjectural but would not be in any sense original. Nor would it necessarily be appropriate to relegate this aircraft with over 30 years' usage by eight Presidents to a "JFK memorial" bell jar.
posted by dhartung at 1:50 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since the Esquire article mentions these in passing but doesn't link to them, here are the complete Stoughton swearing-in photos, picking out agent "Satchel" with his package generally known as the "football" in the back is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:05 AM on November 4, 2013


« Older If you tuned in to the live feeds of the Okeanos E...  |  Artist puts Disney Princess fi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments