A jet that carried President Kennedy's body from Dallas and President Nixon to China was booked for a final flight to retirement Tuesday.
"If history had wings, it would probably be this very aircraft," Vice President Al Gore said Monday of Special Air Mission 26000, which was known as Air Force One when it flew presidents from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton.After the plane's 35 years of service, the Air Force has decided the Boeing 707 is too expensive to maintain. Because of its storied past, the first jet-powered Air Force One was being dispatched to Dayton, Ohio, to join other historic presidential planes at Wright-Patterson Field.
"It was always a pleasure to be aboard that airplane landing anywhere in the world, showing the colors with the big flag on the tail," says retired Chief Master Sgt. William J. (Joe) Chappell. He served for more than 19 years as the plane's flight engineer.
The late Raymond Loewy, a leading industrial designer, was commissioned to give the plane a distinctive look. He provided the blue and white color scheme, and emblazoned the presidential seal on each side of the nose.
And instead of the logo of the Air Force or Navy, this was the first presidential plane to be identified along both sides by the name of her country: "United States of America."
The aircraft was delivered to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., in October 1962. Its cost: $8 million.
The plane made a Cold War point in May 1963 by setting 30 different speed records on a round-trip flight to Moscow. An As-so-ci-at-ed Press story at the time said: "The flight plainly was aimed at countering Soviet boasts that the United States lacks equipment with the speed and range of Russian jets."
That June, it flew President Kennedy to Berlin where he gave his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, received a tumultuous reception and told crew members on reboarding: "We'll never have another day like this."
But this Air Force One became ingrained in the memories of Americans in November 1963 when it rolled into the glare of television floodlights at Andrews, where President Kennedy's friends and aides gently unloaded the slain president's casket.
Earlier that day, at Love Field in Dallas, flight engineer Chappell and Air Force One's crew removed a bulkhead and two rows of seats to make room for Kennedy's casket in a passenger cabin, believing it inappropriate to load it into the cargo hold.
It was on Air Force One that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, took the oath of office as Kennedy's successor.
Three decades later, the plane was dispatched by President Clinton to carry the body of Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, from New York to Washington for burial at his side in Arlington National Cemetery.
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used it in the final days of the Vietnam War for 13 secret meetings with officials of communist North Vietnam.
And in one of its most historic flights, it flew President Nixon to Beijing in 1972 to make his opening to the Peoples Republic of China, again becoming a television symbol of the United States.