Boeing invited to bid for Air Force One replacement

US Air Force One
US Air Force

On September 12, the Air Force officially requested a proposal from Boeing to complete detailed design, modification, test and fielding of two aircraft that will provide presidential worldwide airlift support starting in the 2024 timeframe.

A third production representative aircraft is still under consideration for future procurement.

The request acts upon the authorization received from Frank Kendall, the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, continuing a deliberate step-by-step approach to reduce program and cost risk. By releasing the RFP now, Boeing will be able to apply the results of the ongoing risk reduction activities to the proposal for the contract modification, which will be the preponderance of the acquisition program.

“This is a significant step forward for this program, which emphasizes cost control and risk reduction, in balance with system performance, to meet the requirements of the presidential mission,” said Col. Amy McCain, the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program manager.

“We are committed to providing the (Executive) Office of the President of the United States with safe, reliable air transportation that provides high levels of security and communication capability.”

To help ensure an affordable program, Boeing will modify the Federal Aviation Administration-certified commercial Boeing 747-8 aircraft to meet presidential operational requirements. The modifications to the 747-8 will include electrical power upgrades, a mission communication system, a medical facility, executive interior, a self-defense system, and autonomous ground operations capabilities.

“The results of our ongoing risk reduction efforts are providing data that we can use to make sound decisions regarding the requirements and design trade-offs. These requirements decisions will then be applied to Boeing’s EMD proposal,” McCain said. “We are focused on driving out costs where we can, to ensure this program is affordable.”

The PAR program will replace the VC-25A in the 2024 timeframe through a highly tailored acquisition program. Parts obsolescence and diminishing sources for VC-25A replacement parts are driving increased costs and increasing out of service times for heavy maintenance to maintain FAA airworthiness standards. That time has already grown to well over a year per heavy maintenance cycle, significantly limiting availability for presidential support.

History of the Air Force One

From Presidents Roosevelt to Obama, Boeing airplanes have transported U.S. presidents around the world. On 28 January 2015, the U.S. Air Force announced that it will continue the Boeing tradition with the 747-8, which will replace the two 747-200s that currently serve as the presidential Air Force One fleet.

Air Force One is the official air traffic control call sign for a United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States.

The idea of designating specific military aircraft to transport the President arose in 1943, when officials of the United States Army Air Forces, the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force, became concerned with relying on commercial airlines to transport the President.

A C-87 Liberator Express was reconfigured for use as a presidential transport; however, it was rejected by the Secret Service amid concerns over the aircraft’s safety record. A C-54 Skymaster was then converted for presidential use; this aircraft, dubbed the Sacred Cow, transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in February 1945, and was subsequently used for another two years by President Harry S. Truman.

The “Air Force One” call sign was created after a 1953 incident during which a Lockheed Constellation named Columbine II carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the same airspace as a commercial airline flight using the same call sign.

A number of aircraft types have been used as Air Force One since the creation of the presidential fleet, starting with two Lockheed Constellations in the late 1950s: Columbine II and Columbine III. It also has included two Boeing 707s introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively; since 1990, the presidential fleet has consisted of two Boeing VC-25As, which are specifically configured, highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft.

Boeing 747-200 / 747-8 Comparison

US Air Force One

US Air Force One

(Credit: Boeing)

The Boeing 747s era

Though Ronald Reagan’s two terms as president saw no major changes to Air Force One, the manufacture of the presidential aircraft version of the 747 began during his presidency. The USAF issued a Request For Proposal in 1985 for two wide-body aircraft with a minimum of three engines and an unrefueled range of 6,000 miles.

Boeing with the 747 and McDonnell Douglas with the DC-10 submitted proposals, and the Reagan Administration ordered two identical 747s to replace the aging 707s he used.

The first of two aircraft, designated VC-25A, was delivered in 1990, during the administration of George H. W. Bush. Delays were experienced to allow for additional work to protect the aircraft from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects.

The presidential air fleet is operated by the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Field, Maryland.

Air Force One usually does not have fighter aircraft escort the presidential aircraft over the United States, but this has occurred. In June 1974, while President Nixon was on his way to a scheduled stop in Syria, Syrian fighter jets intercepted Air Force One to act as escorts. However, the Air Force One crew was not informed in advance and, as a result, took evasive action including a dive.

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