Note: Visitors are permitted to walk through this aircraft.
The Boeing VC-137C on display was the first jet aircraft built specifically for use by the President of the United States. During its 36 year flying career, it carried eight sitting presidents and countless heads of state, diplomats, dignitaries and officials on many historic journeys known as Special Air Missions (SAM).
On Oct. 10, 1962, the Boeing Co. delivered to the Air Force a highly modified civilian 707-320B airliner, serial number 62-6000. Bearing the unique call sign “SAM Two-Six-Thousand,” this aircraft illustrated the Air Force’s commitment to providing safe, reliable and comfortable air transportation for the president and other key personnel to locations anywhere around the globe. Whenever the president was onboard the aircraft, the call sign changed to “Air Force One,” a special designation established in 1953 to avoid confusion with other aircraft in flight.
At the request of President Kennedy, a new paint scheme was developed by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and famous industrial designer, Raymond Loewy. In addition to the vibrant blue and white colors, the words “United States of America” were emblazoned in tall letters along the fuselage and an American flag was placed on the tail. These distinctive markings reflect the stature of the Office of the President and serve as a highly visible symbol of American prestige.
One of the world’s most historic aircraft, SAM 26000 carried eight American presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. SAM 26000 played an important role in American presidential, political and diplomatic history, and it remains an important national symbol from the Cold War. In June 1963, SAM 26000 flew President Kennedy to West Berlin, Germany, where he declared to the world that “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”), boldly assuring continued American support in the face of communist threats and the construction of the Berlin Wall.
SAM 26000 bears an intimate connection to one of the nation’s greatest tragedies, a moment that forever altered the course of American history. On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated while traveling in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas. Hours later, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the new president aboard SAM 26000. The aircraft then carried Kennedy’s body and President Johnson back to Washington, D.C., and a grieving nation.
During the Southeast Asia War, SAM 26000 transported President Johnson to visit U.S. troops in South Vietnam. In 1970 President Nixon’s national security advisor, Dr. Henry Kissinger, traveled aboard the aircraft on 13 separate trips to secret peace talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris, France. In February 1972 SAM 26000 flew President Nixon to the People’s Republic of China on his famous “Journey for Peace,” the first visit by an American president to China. Three months later, it carried President Nixon on an unprecedented visit to the Soviet Union, where he signed two historic nuclear arms control agreements.
In December 1972 SAM 26000 became the president’s backup aircraft when the Air Force acquired another Boeing VC-137C (serial number 72-7000). However, SAM 26000 continued flying presidents, vice-presidents and other high-ranking government officials on important missions. In October 1981, it carried former Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter to the funeral of the slain Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. In March 1983 Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom flew on SAM 26000 during her visit to the United States. When SAM 26000 left the presidential fleet in 1990, it continued to fly prominent government officials. Secretary of State James Baker flew aboard the aircraft prior to the 1991 Gulf War for talks with Iraqi leaders regarding their invasion of Kuwait.
In a nationally-televised event, the USAF retired SAM 26000 to the museum in May 1998. After 36 years of providing service and accumulating more than 13,000 flying hours, SAM 26000 began a new career, educating thousands of visitors each year about USAF presidential airlift.
Crew: Seven or eight (plus 40 passengers)
Engines: Four Pratt & Whitney TF33 (JT3D-3B) turbofans of 18,000 lbs. thrust each
Maximum speed: 600 mph
Range: 6,000 miles
Ceiling: 41,000 feet
Weight: 336,000 lbs. (loaded)
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