The First U.S. Presidential Aircraft
The Douglas VC-54C Skymaster is the first aircraft purpose-built to fly the President of the United States. Carrying the staff transport “VC” designation, the aircraft was officially named The Flying White House. However, the aircraft became better known by its unofficial nickname, Sacred Cow, a reference to the high security surrounding the aircraft and its special status.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first US president to fly in an airplane while in office when the Navy-owned, but civilian-operated Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat, Dixie Clipper, transported the president to the Casablanca Conference. Preferring that the president be flown by an Army Air Forces aircraft and crew, Gen “Hap” Arnold, Commander of the USAAF, ordered that a Consolidated C-87, a transport version of the famous B-24 bomber, be converted to fly the Commander in Chief. When the Secret Service expressed doubts about the safety of the C-87, the USAAF turned to the Douglas Aircraft Company to build a military transport specifically to accommodate the special needs of the president.
As the only VC-54C built, the aircraft was heavily modified on the assembly line. A C-54A fuselage was fitted with wings from a C-54B which offered greater fuel capacity. The unpressurized cabin included an executive conference room with a large desk and a rectangular bulletproof window. For additional comfort, a private lavatory was installed next to the president’s seat, and a fold down bed was concealed behind the sofa. An electric refrigerator in the galley added an uncommon luxury for 1945. A battery-powered elevator was installed at the rear of the aircraft which allowed President Roosevelt to board the aircraft easily while in his wheelchair.
The Sacred Cow carried President Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Illustrating the high stakes associated with presidential airlift, the Sacred Cow’s serial number was changed for the flight as a special security measure. The trip to Yalta was Roosevelt’s only flight aboard the aircraft before his untimely death in April 1945.
Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman, used the aircraft extensively during the first 27 months of his administration. On July 26, 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 on board the Sacred Cow. This act, which became effective on Sept. 18, 1947, established the US Air Force as an independent service, making the Sacred Cow the “birthplace” of the US Air Force.
After the Sacred Cow left presidential service, the USAF continued using it for other transport duties until the airplane was finally retired in October 1961. In 1983, the Sacred Cow was transported to the museum, and staff began the monumental task of restoring the aircraft to its former glory. After ten years and more than 34,000 hours of work, the aircraft was placed on display appearing as it did during President Roosevelt’s trip to Yalta.
Crew: Seven (plus 15 passengers)
Engines: Four Pratt and Whitney R-2000 engines of 1,450 hp each
Maximum speed: 300 mph
Range: 3,900 miles
Ceiling: 22,300 feet
Weight: 80,000 lbs. (loaded)
Serial number: 42-107451 (displayed as 42-72252)
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