|The Air Force One phenomenon|
|Air Force One, used to transport presidents of the
US around the world for the last 13 years, outwardly looks just the
same as the ageing B747-200s some of which SAA recently sold off as
scrap. But that is where the similarity ends.
Still top secret in many respects - it is flown and operated by the US Air Force - it is not even widely known that there are two identical Boeing 747-200s that transport the president. However only the one carrying the president adopts the call sign Air Force One.
Topping the secrecy list is the actual floor plan of the two aircraft, their electronics and defensive capabilities that include radar-jamming equipment and anti-missile flares.
The Boeings can also be refuelled inflight, enabling them to fly non-stop to anywhere in the world.
What is known is that the 370m² of floor space looks more like a hotel or executive office suite than an aircraft. The upper deck contains the cockpit, a lounge (probably for crew), and the massive communications room, which failed in spectacular fashion on September 11 while flying President George W Bush to safety, leaving him unable to video conference with his deputy and advisers on the ground or even watch TV news broadcasts of the collapsing twin towers.Needless to say that equipment, which runs 85 secure-line telephones, fax machines, computers, office equipment and 19 TVs, has since undergone a massive upgrade.
Through the main side entrance, a left turn leads past a medical room equipped with a pharmacy, physician in attendance and operating table, to the presidential suite in the nose of the aircraft.
The suite includes a stateroom featuring dressing room, shower and lavatory, a workout room, as well as the president's office.
A right turn at the door towards the back passes the galley which can feed up to 100 people at a time, the main conference room equipped with tables and chairs, a work room, passenger seating, toilets and finally the rear seats.
The lower level of the aircraft carries cargo, equipment and enough galley supplies for 2 000 meals.
Before a flight, the crew, when buying food, go undercover to randomly selected stores to protect the president from attempted poisoning.
Air Force One only really became famous during the Kennedy era when JFK's wife, Jackie, recommended that the Boeing 707 be redecorated with fine art and painted in the soft blue and white livery still used today.
However it was JFK who officially bestowed the moniker on the aircraft. He knew the military and Secret Service used the code Air Force One for any aircraft carrying the president. Deciding the code had a certain ring to it, he authorised its use in public.
But what of the hired help and presidential passengers?
The cockpit crew are all serving air force officers in mid-career with the rank of lieutenant-colonel or colonel and chosen on the basis of their safety records.
The cabin crew consists of 26 people selected for their work ethic, high levels of training and their ability to get on with people.
Should a vacancy occur, the replacement must be endorsed by the other crew members before being accepted.
Stories of presidents and their quirks in flight abound - from the amiable and easy-going Franklin D Roosevelt, long before the advent of Air Force One, who refused to bed down while on board because those with him did not have the same conveniences - to Lyndon Johnson who was said to be the passenger from hell. Johnson, who was sworn in on Air Force One, with Jackie Kennedy at his side, was "endlessly demanding and sometimes abusive to his staff". He even installed a "throne" chair in the B707 to raise himself above anyone sitting in his presence.
Bill Clinton swung between bouts of carefree socialising and eruptive outbursts of temper.
George Bush snr banned broccoli from the Air Force One menu. He told aides his mother forced him to eat it as a child and he was damned if he was going to eat it as president.
Bush jnr prefers leaving on flights at the crack of dawn so that he can be home for dinner with wife Laura.
July 6, 2003
MORE (The Little "One")
George Bush snr banned broccoli from the Air Force One menu. He told aides his mother forced him to eat it as a child and he was damned if he was going to eat it as president
Lyndon B Johnson, 'the passenger from hell' had a 'throne' chair installed to be seated higher than anyone else
Jackie Kennedy recommended that Air Force One be redecorated with fine art and painted in the soft blue and white livery that is still in use today
||© Sunday Times|