Trump supersizes America’s most famous aeroplane

Trump’s Air Force One looks similar to the one that Obama flew. But plans for a bigger one are now under way.

The US president walked down the stairs of Air Force One at an airport in Morristown, New Jersey. He gave a thumbs-up to journalists standing on the tarmac and as he walked past the cameras, he straightened the lapel of his jacket.

An image-conscious businessman, he brags about the size of his hands and his ability to make a deal. For the new presidential aircraft, he wants both – a big machine that’ll save the taxpayer money.

Trump tweeted after the election that he wants to cut costs for the presidential aeroplane, but he’s also said enviously that another head of state, the emir of Kuwait, has a bigger one.

Air Force personnel are scrambling to make the new aeroplane happen – and meet the president’s demands. They’re looking at ways to ensure that the aircraft will be as cost-efficient as possible while at the same time embodies the heft that Trump wants.

Boeing executives said last week that they’d been awarded a contract for the aeroplane’s redesign. “We’ll do our best to drive down costs,” said Caroline Hutcheson, a Boeing spokeswoman.

The president is tinkering with an icon, a symbol of “the global reach of American diplomacy and power”, as Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with a Virginia-based consultancy, the Teal Group, described it.

The first Air Force One jet flew in 1959 with President Dwight D Eisenhower on board. It was red and gold. President John F Kennedy changed the colours to blue and white, the distinctive look it still has today.

A fleet of presidential aircraft are kept in a hangar at an Air Force base in Maryland. Trump went on a tour of the base before flying to New Jersey.

He walked past an array of different-sized, blue-and-white aircraft emblazoned with the words: “United States of America”. Any of them could serve as Air Force One, which is an air traffic control designation that’s given to a plane when the president is on board.

Aside from ferrying the president, the aircraft have several important traits – they have encrypted communications, for example, and they can withstand electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear explosion.

The most famous is a jumbo jet built on a Boeing 747-200B airframe. Trump flew on the jet to Paris in the summertime: it has several different cabins, one with thick carpets, powder blue melting into cobalt; chairs that swivel; and a table reserved for senior White House officials.

Another one, a 757, or “Baby Air Force One”, as it’s known, has the same safety features built to scale. People were crammed into their seats on Friday on the flight from Maryland to New Jersey. Still the trip had luxurious aspects.

Butternut squash and linguine was served for dinner. Afterwards a flight attendant brought me two boxes of M&Ms as souvenirs from the journey. Decades ago passengers were given cigarettes and playing cards – along with other small items. “They used to have barf bags,” a military official said.

There’s only a few differences between his aeroplane and the one that Obama flew. The boxes used to have Obama’s signature, and during his administration an overhead screen played CNN. Under Trump, it’s skyypro News. Otherwise the plane looks the same.

Trump can make small changes – he’s complained about the softness of the hand towels and could replace them. At this point, though, they’re the same (in my opinion, they have a nice, fleecy texture).

Bigger changes would have to undergo a vetting process for safety. That’s what military personnel are doing now while they look at a redesign – and try to keep costs low.

Weeks after the election, Trump tweeted that Boeing was making a new presidential aircraft “but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”

Since that time, Air Force officials and Boeing executives have tried to make it seem as though they’re acting in a frugal manner. The air force recently bought two Boeing 747-8s at a bargain price. That’s what they say – they haven’t revealed the cost, though, so it’s hard to know.

The new aircraft will replace the older model, the 747-200B, but it won’t be ready for several years.

“When it’s time for a president to buy a new Air Force One, you buy it for the next president,” said Aboulafia.

The new plane will have the same features – medical facilities, defence safeguards, and other perks.

And it’s bigger – the wingspan is nearly 30 feet longer than the old one. By any measure, that’s likely to please the boss.

Posted in BBC