Will The Obama Library Have A Plane In It?

[ Posted Thursday, January 29th, 2015 – 16:02 UTC ]

Today's news headlines included an interesting item: "U.S. Air Force To Replace Air Force One." My immediate reaction: Does this mean the future presidential library in honor of Barack Obama will have a plane in it? After all, the last time we upgraded Air Force One, the old one wound up in Reagan's library, so it seems only fair for Obama to get one too.

I know, I know, it is both a rather silly issue and also one that we'll likely have lots and lots of time to decide. I don't even know that they've chosen a site for the future Obama presidential library yet (although I do seem to recall that Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, may be involved -- which doesn't fill me with confidence that the process will go smoothly). But, hey, it's a lazy Thursday, so I thought it'd be an amusing subject to delve into.

My first question is really why Reagan got a plane in the first place. Sure, he was in office when the Air Force decided it was time to upgrade, but every other presidential plane has wound up in various museums of aviation (the largest collection is housed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, the home of aviation). There are plenty of other aviation museums who would love to have an old presidential plane, not least of which is the Smithsonian (they could put it in their enormous Air and Space Museum Annex, out by Dulles Airport near Washington). Only one other presidential plane is exhibited in a monument to a former president, and it was kind of a special case. Lyndon B. Johnson's Texas ranch had an airstrip, but it wasn't long enough for the big planes, so he had a special smaller presidential jet to shuttle him from Bergstrom Air Force Base to the ranch. This plane is now on display at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (formerly his ranch).

This brings up an interesting bit of trivia (anyone who has seen the action movie Air Force One will be aware of this, I should mention). There is no actual plane called "Air Force One." It's not a plane's permanent name, instead it is an official radio call sign. It was created after a mixup in 1953 with a civilian aircraft with the same call sign as the plane President Eisenhower was flying in. From that point on, any Air Force plane which contains the president is designated "Air Force One." The presidential helicopter is likewise designated "Marine Corps One" when the president is on board, and even the small S-3B Viking plane George W. Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier (which he also, briefly, piloted) to give a speech under the "Mission Accomplished" banner was designated "Navy One" while he was on board. When L.B.J. transferred from the big jet to the smaller jet to head to his ranch, each plane was "Air Force One" while he was aboard.

As anyone who lives near Andrews Air Force Base knows, there are currently two planes dedicated to transporting the president. They are interchangeable, and are kept in tip-top flying condition at all times. You can easily spot them in the air because they have a giant blue nose. The plane the president's not currently using can be used for other purposes, such as transporting the vice president around (which, when it happens, means the plane is designated "Air Force Two").

But while the small jet L.B.J. used understandably wound up at his ranch (since he was the only president ever to use it), and while a good case could be made for George W. Bush to get the S-3B Viking at his library (it's currently at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida), there really wasn't any underlying reason for Reagan to get an old presidential plane in his. Sure, he signed off on building a new fleet, but he never actually flew in them while president (due to the time it took to build them, they weren't ready until George H. W. Bush was in office).

Yet the Reagan library does have a presidential plane that flew seven presidents around (from Nixon all the way up to George W. Bush). When the new 747s Reagan had ordered (in 1985) finally arrived (in 1990), the Boeing 707 now sitting in the Reagan library was relegated to backup status until 2001. Maybe the Reagan library just had the most empty space, or something.

However that plane ended up there, though, it has since served a secondary life as a gigantic political prop. That previous sentence was actually a pun for aviation enthusiasts (it's a jet being used as a prop!), I should point out. Inanity aside, Republicans now routinely schedule presidential debates in the hall where the plane sits. I'm not sure why this is, either, other than the fact that it makes a pretty impressive backdrop for Republicans to speak in front of, and it is in keeping with their continued worship of "Saint Ronald of Reagan." But it's not like presidential planes have ever really been a partisan bone of contention or anything. It's mostly just to provide "good video" during the debates, I suppose.

Fair enough. But it does set a precedent. Properly stated, whichever president orders a fleet of new planes to serve as Air Force One gets to keep one of the old ones at his library. This can then be used as an impressive partisan prop for future members of the president's party to exploit. Again, fair is fair.

So I'll be looking forward, at some future point, to see one of the planes Ronald Reagan ordered permanently installed in President Obama's future presidential library. I'll also be looking forward to seeing Democratic presidential debates in front of it, as well. If it's good enough for Ronnie, then it's certainly good enough for Barack.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “Will The Obama Library Have A Plane In It?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    If we want to be appropriate, Hot Air Ballon One should be the official aircraft of the Obama Presidential Library...



  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    And, just to lighten the mood.. :D


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