Kennedy’s Air Force One -– A piece of tragic history
As we pause to reflect a solemn occasion in our country’s history, the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy 50 years ago this coming Friday, Nov. 22, it’s interesting to see the numerous TV specials and documentaries hitting the airwaves.
Just a few nights ago, History Channel had an interesting twist – tracing the president’s steps the last 24 hours of his life. It was enlightening because we all know what happened afterwards – a shocked country in mourning.
During that several day swing through Texas, a critical state to win in his re-election bid, Kennedy crisscrossed the state, where thousands turned out to greet him and the first lady. In many of the news films from the time, featured prominently was Air Force One. It would be the plane that carried a young, vibrant president and his entourage to various stops. Soon, the same plane would bring his lifeless body back to Washington, D.C. for burial.
Now, that very plane is on display at our National Museum of the United States Air Force. The AF Museum, if you will.
Dr. Jeff Underwood, NMUSAF Historian said it’s more than just an Air Force artifact.
“Buch, it’s a national treasure, and we at the National Museum of the United States Air Force are honored to be trusted with its care and exhibition,” said Underwood.
The plane was delivered from the Boeing assembly line in Renton, Wash., to the USAF at Andrews AFB, Maryland Oct. 10, 1962. President Kennedy commissioned his wife Jackie to come up with a color scheme for the plane that should stand out and make our country proud. From that came the colors you see today with a little variation, the blue and white with “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” blazoned across the fuselage, which is still used today on the modern 747 Air Force One.
And even though it’s most notable for JFK’s use, including the June 1963 trip that took the president to Ireland and Germany where he made his famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech and also the swearing-in of Vice President Lyndon Johnson as the 36th president of the United States to name a few, the aircraft has much more history.
“It also was used by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. In 1970, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger used the plane on his first of 13 secret meetings with officials from North Vietnam, and in 1972 President Nixon made his historic ‘Journey for Peace’ visit to the People’s Republic of China,” Underwood explained.
In 1974, it became a back-up plane for the sitting president, then was retired and flown to the museum on May 20, 1998 for display. The aircraft was 36 years old when it flew for the final time. Also known as SAM 26000, it has 13,000 flying hours and has traveled millions of air miles.
“The arrival of President Kennedy’s Air Force One brought national and international media attention to the National Museum of the United States Air Force and to Dayton, Ohio,” Underwood said. “It remains one of the museum’s most popular aircraft, and people’s fascination with it seems to grow with each passing year.”
I’m told the exterior of the aircraft has been repainted, to look as it was when it flew President Kennedy to Dallas in November 1963. But don’t expect inside to be circa 1963.
“The interior remains exactly as it was when the aircraft arrived at the museum in 1998, which helps the museum tell more of the 36 years of history made by this airplane,” Underwood said.
Underwood said restoration is basically complete, but the priceless national treasure requires constant attention from the National Museum of the United States Air Force’s highly skilled and dedicated restoration division staff to maintain and preserve it for future generations.
And, I might add, they’re the best at what they do.
Right now the aircraft is located in a separate facility near the museum with other presidential planes. To access the aircraft, visitors must ride shuttle buses from the main museum complex to the Presidential Gallery, which is located on a controlled-access portion of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. And you can imagine with this being the 50th anniversary of the assassination, interest is at an all-time high.
Because of the increased interest in the aircraft, the museum is expanding the number of bus trips to the Presidential and Research and Development Galleries, offering four trips per day now through Sunday, Dec. 1.
Something really cool is if you can’t make it out for a visit, you can in the “comfort of your own phone.” Visitors can explore “behind the scenes” of the aircraft through 15 high-definition panoramic interior photos. Just visit the 360-degree virtual tour at nmusafvirtualtour.com. For museum hours and more information, please visit nationalmuseum.af.mil.
“Buch, a visit to this aircraft allows a visitor to leave the National Museum of the United States Air Force with a much greater appreciation of presidential history and of the U.S. Air Force’s efforts to support the presidents with global airlift capability,” Underwood said. “A visitor can also gain an appreciation of how history was made in this very aircraft.”
And Buch says, “See ‘ya next week!”
For more than 25 years, “Buch” has been a local television icon. Known and loved by thousands in the Miami Valley, his followers describe him as trust-worthy, fun, the guy next door, a friend and a role model. When it comes to promoting your business, Buch has the ability to grab your customer’s attention. Reach DCP freelance writer Jim Bucher at JimBucher@DaytonCityPaper.com.